Wisconsin Women in the Civil War
Source: "Wisconsin Women in the War Between the States"
by Ethel Alice Hurn, Madison: Wisconsin History Commission (1911)
Transcribed for Genealogy Trails by Mary Saggio
Chapter 1: The Departure of the Regiments
Chapter 2: Soldiers' Aid Societies
Chapter 3: The Wisconsin Soldiers' Aid Society & Miss Henrietta Colt
Chapter 4: Conditions at Home
Chapter 5: Letters for the Front
Chapter 6: Women With the Regiments
Chapter 7: Hospitals and Nurses
Chapter 8: Mrs. Cordelia A. P. Harvey
Chapter 9: Mrs. Harvey's Interview with Lincoln
Chapter 10: The Christian Commission
Chapter 11: The Northwestern Sanitary Fair
Chapter 12: The Milwaukee Soldiers' Home and the Soldiers' Home Fair
Fifty years have passed since the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter. The story of the terrible War between the States, which followed that dramatic episode, has been told by thousands of writers, who have touched on almost every phase of the struggle. But curiously enough, the part taken by the patriotic women of the North has thus far failed of adequate description. Their hearts responded to the appeal of the Union as quickly and as nobly as those of the men. At first, however, their opportunities for service did not equal their eagerness to help; but it was soon realized that woman's office in the conflict was of its kind as important as that of the marching rank and file. They lent encouragement and helpful sympathy in a hundred practical ways. They not only sanctioned but urged the enlistment of their fathers, sons, brothers, and lovers. They ministered to organized companies and regiments before the departure for the front. When once the volunteers were in the field, boxes of dainties and comforts were sent to them from home; and the ill and wounded appealed especially to the boundless charity of womankind.
At first the efforts of the women were unorganized and individual. But as the fruit of experience, their leaders devised and carefully managed an admirable system of organized aid and relief. The result was an incalculable assuagement of the miseries of war. To accomplish these sanitary and curative results, large funds were needed. Here again the organizing ability of women, never more conspicuously evidenced, came into play. Every possible source of revenue was drawn upon. Particularly profitable were the great fairs and exhibitions which they held in important centres of population.
Women likewise were found at the front as nurses, hospital matrons, sanitary agents, Christian Commission workers, and occasionally as "Daughters of the Regiment" or as officers' wives. But the heaviest burden undoubtedly was carried by those who remained at home. In addition to their much-needed work of relief, many labored steadily upon the farms and in the shops, as breadwinners for their families, while the men were serving in the ranks. The extent of their co-operation in this direction can never definitely be ascertained. With a tireless and courageous energy worthy of Spartan mothers, they kept the wheels of industry in motion, and thus saved the country from economic ruin. It is probable that future historians of the War may consider this the most important contribution of Northern women to the cause of the Union.
Early in its career, the Wisconsin History Commission arranged to present at least a summary statement of the share of Wisconsin women in these several lines of wartime activity. The task of collecting and classifying the data, and presenting it in literary form, was (under the general direction of the Committee on Publication) undertaken by Miss Ethel Alice Hurn of Oshkosh, at that time a student in the University of Wisconsin. The Commission now takes pleasure in publishing this interesting and valuable study, which amply justifies her selection for so difficult a task.
Difficult, because testimony concerning the four years' war-work of the women of our State was not easy either to discover or to interpret. Their deeds were performed merely as a matter of duty or heartfelt desire, with no thought of proclaiming them to the world. Miss Hurn's material could be found only in scattered contemporary correspondence and subsequent reminiscence, in pamphlet reports of fairs and societies, in newspaper files, and in verbal statements and letters obtained by her from survivors. From these disassociated bricks and mortar of history, she has constructed her edifice. The result is an unusual presentation of the sympathetic and sanitive forces underlying the terrible stress of war. She has given especial emphasis to the work of one or two women of unusual ability, whom circumstances placed in positions of national importance. But the record is chiefly that of the average woman, who with cheerfulness and fidelity approaching the heroic, met and grappled with the problems forced upon her by the War. The Commission believes that this record will not be received with indifference in the homes and at the hearthsides of the Wisconsin people of our own day.
The index is the work of another Wisconsin woman, Dr. Louise Phelps Kellogg, of the editorial staff of the Wisconsin Historical Society. Her family traditions connect her closely with the sanitary work of Milwaukee women during the giant contest that not only "tried men's souls" but fired the hearts of their womenkind.
R. G. T.
WISCONSIN HISTORICAL LIBRARY
The Departure of the Regiments
After the firing on Fort Sumter the North suddenly awoke to a realization that civil war was inevitable, and prepared accordingly. From a peaceful, industrial community Wisconsin was quickly transformed into a hive of military activity. Every town, village, and hamlet became a, recruiting station, and whenever enlistments were mentioned, a thrill ran through every community.
Under such circumstances the proclamation of Governor Randall, April 22nd, 1861, to the "Patriotic Women of Wisconsin" was peculiarly inspiring. In it he said:
I know that you will respond cheerfully to my request that you contribute your aid in the present crisis, in the way of preparing lint and bandages for the use of the army. A much larger amount of such necessaries for an army may be prepared, than may be required by the sons of Wisconsin, but in the long war likely to follow, there may be thousands who will require such kindness. * * *
It is your country and your government as well as theirs that is now in danger, and you can give strength and courage and warm sympathies and cheering words to those who go to do battle for all that is dear to us here. Bitter as the parting may be to many, I am assured that you will bid them go bravely forward for God and Liberty, to "return with their shields, or on them." I commend the soldiers to your kindness, encouragement and prayers, with full confidence that when occasion calls, many, very many Florence Nightingales will be found In our goodly land. 1 [Official publication in Wisconsin State Journal (Madison), April 23, 1861.]
No one can doubt the patriotism and enthusiasm of the women of those days. They entered heart and soul into every conceivable activity of the time. They followed Governor Randall's advice—scraped lint, made bandages, and encouraged men to enlist. Many war-meetings were held in southern Wisconsin, which were attended by women as well as by men.
A typical rally was usually conducted as follows. A few days beforehand a notice was sent to the people of the district, announcing that a war-meeting would be held at a certain time and place, that a well-known orator would speak, and that there would be "an abundance of martial music on the programme." On the evening chosen, such members of the local company as desired to go, entered wagons provided for the purpose, and formed a procession moving through the town with colors flying, drums beating, accompanied by much cheering. In the meantime a crowd having assembled at the place of meeting, cheered lustily as the soldiers dismounted, to which the latter responded, and much enthusiasm was evoked. A recent writer thus describes such an occasion:
After the teams had been cared for, and all were settled in the school-house, as a matter of course some music would be called for, and there, while the shrill tones from Rube Green's fife would almost pierce holes through the window panes, Trume Hurlbutt, seeing the admiring gaze of all the country maidens centered upon him, would fairly astonish them by his dexterity in handling the sticks; and Jim Solomon would so belabor his old bass drum that the loosened plaster would drop from the ceiling. 2 [H. W. Rood, Company E and the Twelfth Wisconsin in the War for the Union (Milwaukee, 1893), pp. 47, 48.]
The effect of the music upon the audience was instantaneous; all were thus put into the best possible frame of mind for hearing the "ringing address of the captain, the next thing on the programme.'' Then followed calls for more music, succeeded by more cheers. At this psychological moment the captain would give a hearty invitation for the young men to join the company, whereupon a deep silence generally fell upon the audience, for while it was easy enough to use their lungs in such a cause, actual enlistment was a very serious matter.
At this point in the meeting the young ladles were generally more enthusiastic than the boys, whether because of their more intense patriotism, or because, however wrought up they might become, concerning the duty of enlistment, they were safe from any personal appeals to put down their own names, I do not pretend to say. "We all knew that, as a matter of course, every good girl was a patriotic girl, and equally well we knew, that had every girl of them desired to enlist, not one of them would be accepted. 3 [Ibid, pp. 49, 50]
Now and then a young girl would add her powers of persuasion to those of the captain, and would urge the boys to enlist, hinting that a young fellow who was as brave and plucky as John would surely not need coaxing; this was a most trying situation for the poor fellow, who probably wished at the moment that both he and his girl had stayed at home. At one such meeting a certain young girl became very enthusiastic and
cheered with the men and boys, clapped her hands every time the captain made a particularly good point, and waved her handkerchief at the band when they played "The girl I left behind me." When stirring exhortations to enlist were brought to bear upon the young men, she became more expressive and enthusiastic than ever. At last she spoke right out in meeting as follows: "John, if you do not enlist, I'll never let you kiss me again as long as I live! Now you mind, sir, I mean what I say." 4 [Ibid, p. 50.]
Poor John! he had no sort of notion of enlisting, but his patriotic girl had put before him an alternative that made him fairly tremble with indecision. But John's misery was the cause of much merriment in such a crowd at such a time; especially it amused the members of our company, and they exhorted him something after this fashion: "John, you'd better go with us! Come now, John, if I were in your place I'd enlist, before I'd give up, what you've got to." 5 [Ibid, pp. 50, 51.]
But it was quite evident that John had lost all interest in the meeting and that he stubbornly refused to enlist. History does not divulge whether or not the patriotic girl kept her vow.
Although this was the usual type of a rally, methods differed in different towns. In some places a choir both of men and women would begin the exercises with bright and lively songs to arouse enthusiasm, then change to more quiet and plaintive tunes to evoke the patriotism of those it was hoped would enlist. After this occurred, the singers would again burst jubilantly into patriotic melodies.
Such rallies were frequent during the earlier years of the war; and while not always successful in securing enlistments, they were valuable in arousing the community to seriously consider the war and its issues. The following is an instance well calculated to show the spirit of the women who attended such meetings:
There was an enthusiastic war-meeting a few miles from our town. Just before the speaker arose to address the audience, a good old lady rose to her feet and said she had five sons now in the army, fighting to maintain the nation's honor, and another son about sixteen, whom she would gladly send as a drummer boy, whose health would not permit him to fight. Also her husband had Just enrolled his name. "And now," said she, "I propose three cheers for our good old flag!" and with those words she walked up and kissed the flag that she had yielded her heart's treasure to sustain. 6 [Correspondence of Wisconsin Volunteers (newspaper clippings, chiefly soldiers’ letters), collected by E. B. Quiner, in Wisconsin Historical Library.]
Another patriotic woman in speaking of her husband said, "I would almost despise my husband and would think him a sneak, if he hadn't gone.'' The following circumstance illustrates a fine type of patriotism and religious faith. A woman from Vernon County accompanied her husband to the place of enlistment, to see him sign his name to the enlistment roll, since he was determined to go. As he laid down the pen, she took it up and wrote "God bless and protect you, my husband." 7 [Dan Webster and Don C. Cameron, Story of First Wisconsin Battery (Washington, D. C., 1907), p. 7.] But it remained for a Waushara County woman to cap the climax by saying, in a burst of patriotic fervor, that if she had another husband, she would send him also. So it may be assumed that Wisconsin women were as patriotic and courageous in giving up their soldiers, as the latter were in marching away to fight for their country.
Everywhere, in small villages as well as in towns and cities, the task of drilling recruits was busily going on, and everywhere people old and young were filled with enthusiasm and delight for all things military. Even in the village, there was generally more or less a crowd at hand to witness [the evolutions of the soldiers] and hear the soul-stirring and ear-splitting music of the fife and drum. 8 [Rood, p. 42]
While recruiting was going on, daily drills were held on the town square, where keeping step to Union music was vigorously practiced. '' Officers and men alike were ignorant of military tactics, and all studied with zealous determination to master the art of war. The park became an attractive place—attractive to the young ladies as well as to recruits; to the former [because] they could see the soldier boys, and to the latter [because] there the girl he was to leave behind him was sure to be. 9 [Webster and Cameron, p. 7.]
There, too, the presence of women was effective, for "when the soldiers were on the drill-ground under the admiring gaze of a score of bright eyes, they stood up straighter and taller and looked manlier than ever before, and as a matter of fact * * * always got in their best work when they had a bevy of admiring maidens for spectators. 10 [Rood, p. 42]
Not only in villages did women turn out to watch the soldiers, but the same interest was manifested in towns and cities. This is shown by the remark made by a soldier at Camp Utley, Racine: "We marched along Racine's most aristocratic streets, and every man did his best, for the walks were filled with the belles of that fair city.” 11 [Webster and Cameron, p. 16]
When this wave of enthusiasm for things military and patriotic swept over .Wisconsin, a strong desire was created to fly the American flag.
Such a display of the national colors had never been seen before. Flag raising was the order of the day. The trinity of red, white, and blue colors were to be seen In all directions. Shop-keepers decked their windows and counters with it. Men wore it in neckties or in a rosette, pinned on the breast or tied in the button-hole. Women wore it conspicuously also. The bands played only patriotic airs, and "Yankee Doodle," "Red, White, and Blue," and "Star Spangled Banner" would have been worn thread-bare, if possible. 12 [J. H. Billings, Hard Tack and Coffee (Boston, 1888), p. 42]
The flag floated not only from halls, stores, dwellings, school-rooms, churches, doors, windows, and dining-rooms, but even adorned the parlors of cultivated women. 13 [William DeLoss Love, Wisconsin in the War of the Rebellion (Chicago, 1866), p. 125.] It is not surprising, therefore, to find that flag-making was the order of the day. In every town and city women were busy making flags for the different military companies. These were of various materials and designs, and each bore some inscription to distinguish it from others. One interesting flag is thus described:
It is of dark blue silk with a silver fringe. On one side is painted a shield, inscribed "Racine 1861," with a national flag draped on either side of it, surmounted"by an eagle, holding the bolts of Jove. Above is the motto "Remember Sumter!" On scrolls near the center is written, "For Freedom and for God." On the reverse is a shield with a star, surrounded by military emblems with the name of the company inscribed. 14 [Corres. Wis. Volunteers, I, p. 73.]
A Lancaster banner, on a background, profusely adorned with rosettes, bore the inscription, "Lead is our King, not Cotton. 15 [Ibid, p. 72.]
Another flag from the same town was made of cream-colored linen with the following inscription in large black letters: "Lead mines of Grant. We are called. We have come. Wisconsin." The other side of this banner was made of blue silk, and bore the inscription, "We pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.” 16 [Ms. letter of Mrs. Martha Showalter, Lancaster.] Not every banner was made of silk, however; for one, worthy of mention, was of merino, its staff being surmounted by a globe. This one had specific interest, because the young girls who made it gave up the joys of dancing for the soberer- pastime of sewing.
The flags thus far described were not national, but designed as emblems for local companies. United States flags were also occasionally presented, although these were usually furnished by the State.
After the fall of Fort Sumter the pupils of the Beloit High School were filled with enthusiasm and said, "We must have a flag." "So the boys bought the material, and the girls made it, our principal bidding us 'not to make the stitches so long that the birds would catch their feet in them.' " 17 [Ms. letter of Mary E. Simmons (Beloit, March 4, 1910).] The women of Beloit also desired to make a United States flag, but were told that the Government would furnish it; "and besides," added the women, "if we made it as big as our hearts, no color sergeant could carry it."
A unique flag, and one that savored of Revolutionary days, was made in a little country village and raised July 4, 1861. The women of the family made the stripes of muslin and turkey-red calico, and a piece of the daughter's blue apron (for cotton cloth was dear) formed the background for the stars, which were six-pointed and patterned after a drawing by the younger son. The flag-pole was made by a son, home on sick leave, and so the flag represented the united efforts of the whole patriotic family. 18 [Sheboygan Telegram (December 2, 1909)]
Since so many flags were made by the women for the departing troops, it is not surprising that almost every town had its formal flag presentation, on which occasion the people gathered together to listen to "words of tenderest encouragement, spoken by some young girl with cheek and heart aglow. 19 [Mrs. S. E. Henshaw, Our Branch and Its Tributaries (Chicago, 1868), p. 20.]
The presentation of a flag to the First Wisconsin Regiment by Mrs. George Walker, in behalf of the ladies of Milwaukee, occurred at Camp Scott on May 8, 1861. The speech was made in the presence of the Governor, Brigadier- General King, and other Wisconsin officers. After a review of the regiment a hollow square was formed, and Mrs. Walker was introduced to the troops. 20 [Love, p. 213]
The following sentences of her address reflect the spirit of the occasion:
In confiding this banner to be upheld by your strong arms and dauntless hearts, we feel that you will never permit a hostile or traitor's flag to assume the place of the glorious and unsullied stars and stripes, which have been, with the blessing of God, and ever shall be, a symbol of our national glory. * * *
The ladies, who have prepared this beautiful standard, have adorned Its azure field with a star for each state of the Union, making thirty-four in all. "We have made no distinction, selecting some and excluding others, but have embraced our whole country with all its luminaries shining, for we can recognize no secession from the glorious sisterhood of states. 21 [Ibid, p. 214]
Such speeches filled the listening soldiers with an intense patriotism, which the following quotation well expresses: "Not one but resolved to face even death with unflinching nerve, and to always keep in mind as their watchword, 'Death before dishonor.' "22 [Corres. Wis. Volunteers, i, p. 24.]
Banquets for the Soldiers
In many towns the departing soldiers were served with special luncheons or suppers, which were much appreciated by the local companies. These were particularly noteworthy in Milwaukee, Madison, Racine, La Crosse, Oshkosh, and other places where camps were located. On Thanksgiving, Racine women furnished the men in camp with a Thanksgiving dinner, at which twelve hundred doughnuts, five hundred pies, and a hundred and seventy-five turkeys were eaten. A soldier who attended this banquet wrote: "We had cold turkey, roast chicken, apple, pumpkin, and mince pies, sponge cake, pound cake, and indeed everything the most fastidious could wish for, and above all, the ladies seemed to take a special delight in smiling upon us, while we were eating." 23 Id., ii, p. 76.
Perhaps the most ambitious attempt of this sort was made at Madison in July, 1861. The patriotic men and women of the city and surrounding country met at Assembly Hall in the Capitol, and resolved to entertain the Fourth and Fifth regiments. The plan was, that the women from the country should furnish the substantial part of the menu, including chickens, lambs, boiled ham, vegetables, butter, cream, eggs, and cake; while the Madison women brought jelly, pies, and other delicacies. Six thousand people attended this banquet, many of them from Middleton, Cottage Grove, and Sun Prairie. They came in wagons and carriages with waving banners and music, bringing their provisions, which the Madison women received and disposed of. Meanwhile, the soldiers at Camp Randall had decorated the grounds for the occasion, by making designs of white sand, bordered with pebbles. Among the figures were hearts, diamonds, circles, flags, and shields—each company having a different emblematic device. Among the inscriptions were: "Rebels, blow your horn;" "Ladies of Dane, the Beaver Dam Rifles appreciate your kindness;" and "Remember Sumter!" The most elaborate attempt at decoration was made by Company E. "Here was an elevation of an immense circle, in the center of which was the Wisconsin coat of arms, badger and all. This was a most elaborate piece of work, showing superior taste and skill. The badger, like all the devices about the grounds, was made of pebbles and presented a very fair animal. Around the circle were the words, 'Janesville Light Guard. Deeds not words.' The whole was tastefully decorated with nuts, green and dry." 24 [Id., I, pp. 210, 211]
These indefatigable workers had also decorated the dining-hall with bushes and leaves. Thus the whole affair presented a most festive appearance. But the supper must not be forgotten. A writer described it as follows:
Precisely at five o'clock everything was In readiness, and the signal for supper was promptly responded to by the entrance of the twenty companies into the dining hall. Before commencing the feast, each company in turn gave three rousing cheers for the ladles, and then the order for three cheers by the two regiments together was given, and such cheers and tigers as were raised, are seldom heard. The best efforts of two thousand throats were given to the work, and as evidence that It was successful, these cheers were distinctly heard In all parts of the city, a distance of a mile and a half. There was good feeling there and a great amount of it. 25 [Ibid, p. 211.]
After supper the women were thanked for their sumptuous entertainment and then the regiments were drawn up for dress parade, and a flag was presented to each. Subsequently, other entertainments were provided, and the grand finale was a dance upon the parade grounds, "in which the sturdy soldiers and the fair damsels participated in high glee. * * * it was truly a happy day. The weather was delightful, the ladies were agreeable, the soldiers were gallant, and the outsiders in general were pleased with everything. * * *, We can only add, that the whole affair was a perfect success; and to the ladies of the country and the city be awarded all the credit. God bless them all." 26 [Ibid, p. 211.]
Such elaborate entertainments as the foregoing were infrequent; yet on a smaller scale the same sort of thing was being done in almost every village or town, for departing soldiers, whose letters are full of appreciation for such kindnesses. Oyster suppers, strawberry festivals, and the like were the favorite modes of entertainment and often a programme followed, as for example, when the Sauk County riflemen left home. Thirty young girls, tastefully dressed in white, sang a national anthem, after which the volunteers preceded to Kingston, where a reception and feast were given them. 27 [Ibid, p. 231] Dances were also a popular form of farewell to the soldiers. These were usually held in the town hall, where a crowd of friends and relatives gathered to make merry with them. But the effort at cheerfulness was not always successful, for occasionally a devoted couple would be seen dancing, while tears ran down their cheeks. One onlooker at such a gathering expressed the sentiment of the assembled company when she said, "I feel as though I were going to dance on their graves."
Not content with doing everything possible for the companies from their own towns, Wisconsin women offered every possible courtesy to the stranger companies marching through. When the Seventh Regiment passed through Janesville on its way to Chicago, there were huzzas, a waving of handkerchiefs, and something more substantial. As the two trains drew up alongside of each other, pails of coffee and buckets of sandwiches, pies, cakes, and apples were quickly distributed. 28 [Ibid, p. 272.]
At Kenosha a most successful entertainment was given the First Regiment in June, 1861. A volunteer wrote:
After a short march to a small grove, we ate an excellent dinner, prepared by the ladies. This was by far the most pleasant time we have had since our enlistment. Everything that we could wish for in the shape of pies, cakes, and meats were furnished in abundance. The ladies filled the knapsacks of the different companies with biscuits, meat, and cheese. 29 [Ibid, p. 20.]
Occasionally bouquets were bestowed upon the departing regiments, and even more intimate tokens; for '' sometimes girls passed along the side of the car, shaking hands with their 'brothers all,' and occasionally some bold soldier boy, with a spice of fun or tenderness in his heart, would bring the face near enough to imprint a chaste salute." But the tables were turned when a daring maid kissed the entire membership of a local company, from the captain with his whiskers to the humblest private in the ranks.
A large and handsome cake was given to Company A by the Milwaukee women, accompanied by a splendid bouquet which bore the inscription, "Flowers may fade, but the honors of the brave never.'' 30 [Ibid, p. 239.]
Sometimes the companies in the various State camps received gifts from their home towns, and occasionally relatives from home visited them. On May 24, 1861, the Kenosha boys at Camp Scott were cheered by the visit of nearly a hundred Kenosha women, who came laden with a bountiful supply of "cuisine dainties, prepared to tickle the palate and make glad the heart." 31 [Ibid, p. 8.]
Visitors at the various camps became more numerous as the time for the companies to depart drew nigh, and painful scenes were often witnessed by sympathetic onlookers. A correspondent wrote:
"We almost daily witness thrilling scenes, not blustering, but calm heart-moving ones, of parents visiting their sons * * *brothers and sisters visiting brothers, or pretty wives often with their pretty babes, visiting their husbands, each bringing the soldier a few of the common luxuries of home as a remembrance. See him accompany her to the gate, where he must stop – goodbye, goodbye, they pass along, and he looks so steady, so sober, but his eyes begin to glisten, as he turns away with a heart too full, a throat too choked for utterance; perhaps it is the last goodbye to the dearest on earth. 32 [Id., vii, p. 4.]
Such a parting is but a type of what occurred in every home or camp, where a soldier was leaving his beloved ones. Usually the women were brave—O! so brave—only to break down later, when they were sure that an exhibition of grief would not unnerve the man whose courage they had tried so hard to sustain. In one case a soldier came back to get some forgotten article only to find the mother who before him had been so brave, sobbing uncontrollably, while the little brother lay weeping in her arms. But such scenes ought not to be reported. They should be imagined rather than expressed. It is enough to say, that these women, when they pinned on the rosette of red, white and blue, or gave the little Testament to their brave boys, were making fully as great sacrifices for their country as the departing soldiers.
An account of the demonstration in Milwaukee at the departure of a regiment is recorded as follows:
The sympathy of Milwaukee citizens has been shown to us in the brightest light. I did not see a single window in ail the streets we passed, without being filled both by males and females; the latter gracefully waving their handkerchiefs or bidding us farewell and success; among whom many a slender, blue-eyed beauty came to our view. A multitude of men, women and children followed us to the depot, 33[Id., viii, p. 55.]
When the Twenty-fourth Regiment left Milwaukee, a densely packed mass of men, women, and children waited patiently from eight o'clock in the morning until one, when a sudden shower scattered them all for a time. At three o'clock the crowd gathered again, and thousands came to say goodbye to acquaintances, friends, or relatives. "Cheer after cheer went up as they went down Main street [now Broadway], and the Newhall blossomed out with white handkerchiefs. At the depot there were at least seven thousand people, and the limited space about the cars was all taken up with enthusiastic friends, shaking hands and saying good words." Though such a scene seemed cheerful enough to the soldier, excited over the prospect of his journey and the new life, there were plenty of shadows to soften the high light. A writer tells the following pathetic story:
As the men passed into the cars, a young girl, plainly dressed, approached one of the windows. Hiding her face in her hands, and too much awed by the crowd to sob aloud, she gave way to silent tears. A middle-aged man, a private near the farther limit of the age for military-service, appeared at the car window, toward which the girl was drawn, and took off his cap with a trembling and unnerved hand, while silent tears coursed down his weather-beaten cheeks. A father was apparently bidding his child an unspoken farewell. 34 [Id, x, p. 331.]
From the foregoing, it appears that the women of Wisconsin were as patriotic as the men during the days when the regiments marched away; their courage was even greater, for:
Heroic males the country bears But daughters give up more than sons. Flags wave, drums beat, and unawares You flash your souls out with the guns And take your Heaven at once!
But we! - we empty heart and home Of life's life, love! we bear to think You're gone, - to feel you may not come, - To hear the door-latch stir and click; Yet, no more you! . . . nor sink.
Soldiers' Aid Societies
When Lincoln in April, 1861, issued his first call for troops, the women throughout the country held meetings to confer with regard to the best means of organized help for the soldiers. In many ways this was a remarkable movement. Tradition, custom, instinct, and the isolated life in small communities broken into separate religious sects, opposed a general union Nevertheless, regardless of creed or social position, women began at once to form a national organization to minister to the army. 36 [Ida M. Tarbell, “The American Women” in American Magazine (April, 1910), p. 811.]
The Women's Central Association of Relief, formed at New York in April, 1861, was the first step toward the organization of the United States Sanitary Commission. 37 [Rossiter Johnson, Short History of the War of Secession (Boston, 1888), pp. 352, 353.] President Lincoln failed at- first to realize the great benefit to be derived from such an organization; he described it as a "fifth wheel to the coach," but finally he gave his consent to the formation of a "Commission of inquiry and advice with respect to the sanitary interests of the United States forces." June 13, 1861, this committee received from Lincoln and Simon Cameron (at that time Secretary of War) an order authorizing the formation of the Sanitary Commission.
The object of the Sanitary Commission was to do what the Government could not accomplish. The latter undertook to provide all that was necessary for the soldier, whether sick or in good health, whether in active service or in the hospital. But from the very nature of things, this was an unrealized ideal. The Commission was to meet the emergency caused by the breakdown of governmental machinery ; it made provision for all needs, and sought always to supplement, never to supplant the Government. It never forgot that it must be subordinate to army rules and regulations; that it must not under any circumstances break down the essential military discipline on which so much depended. 38 [Mary E. Livermore, My Story of the War (Hartford, Conn., 1889), p. 129.]
The work of the Commission was comprehensive in its scope, including many lines of usefulness. It sent medical inspectors to the army to report on sanitary conditions and administration, prepared eighteen treatises on the best means of preserving health in camps, put trained nurses into the hospitals, established soup depots, and invented hospital-cars for a more humane transportation of the wounded. It had also a general relief-department, with twelve branch depots in the large cities; each of these had auxiliaries, engaged in obtaining supplies. The special relief department established forty lodges for sick soldiers; these were scattered along the route of the army. It founded claim, pension, and back-pay agencies, and printed a hospital directory. Most invaluable was its system of battlefield relief, through which thousands of dollars worth of sanitary supplies were distributed after the great battles. 39 [Ibid moo, 130-132]
Although the administrative responsibility of this organization was assumed by men, it was the women of the North who were the bone and sinew of the Commission, for by their generous contributions and patriotic spirit they kept it alive. From an historical standpoint the organization, although outside the Government, assumed certain governmental powers and duties. From a humane standpoint it expressed the blended charity of all the loyal states, gathered and organized according to a carefully studied method approved by the Government, guaranteed efficiency, economized energy, and secured continuance of the generous love, looking out with aching eyes and waiting hands from almost every home throughout the land. 40 [U. S. Sanitary Commission Bulletin (New York, 1886), I, pp. 289, 290.]
The Chicago branch of the Sanitary Commission, because of its convenient location, became the channel through which most of the supplies from Wisconsin were sent to the front. On October 17, 1861, this branch was organized, and almost immediately the women of the Northwest began to send large donations to its quarters. The energy, earnestness, and patriotism of these women of the Northwest was admirable as was shown by letters received by the Sanitary Commission, which came from cities, towns, villages, and prairie settlements, and were in themselves a "monument to the patriotism, ability, and culture of the writers."41 [Henshaw, p. 22.] Requests for instructions show a remarkable clearness of thought. These emanated from every point, and were actual reports of admirably organized societies, whose business methods were so good that the exclamation, "The Northwest is full of wonderful women!'' was quite justified.
While companies were forming and departing, one resolute purpose lay deep in the heart of every Wisconsin woman; namely, to do all possible to bring comfort and encouragement to the departing regiments. Such a strong feeling did not remain long unexpressed. A period of misdirected effort was the result—misdirected in the sense that the women failed to realize that they were doing harm in persistently sending boxes of jellies and sweetmeats to men who were undergoing the process of acclimatization, and also misdirected when their time and labor were spent on unnecessary and useless articles, such as havelocks. Societies were even formed for this purpose alone, their expenses being defrayed by "havelock sociables." Not until bales of havelocks were made did they realize that the gifts were useless, and that the men received them with merriment and put them to every possible use, except the one for which they were intended, namely as a protection for the head from the hot rays of the sun. 42 [Ibid, pp. 20, 21]
These early efforts likewise did not aim at the broader patriotism, which seeks to benefit the sick or wounded soldier regardless of his company, regiment, or state. As time passed, however, Wisconsin women realized their mistakes, and like the other loyal women of the North, were as anxious to rectify them as they had been headlong in perpetrating them.
Aid Societies Formed
Shortly after war was declared, Wisconsin women began to meet to make garments for the soldiers. These gatherings were at first spontaneous and could hardly be given a name. They were prompted by the exigencies of the time and animated by the thought that several enthusiastic, industrious women could accomplish more when working together than separately. As time went on, and the influence of the Sanitary Commission grew stronger, such gatherings became regular aid societies, with officers, rules, and a definite scheme of operation. This was accomplished all the more easily, because many Wisconsin women were used to similar church organizations, and like their New England sisters had long worked in missionary and sewing societies. As a rule the women who had been prominent in the earlier organizations, became the leaders in the aid societies, so that the movement in Wisconsin went rapidly forward.
Although the aid societies were informal during the first years of the war, a definite scheme for conducting them had been evolved by 1863; this did much to increase their efficiency. 43 [“Women’s Central Association of Relief,” in U. S. Sanitary Commission Bulletin, ii, pp. 370, 371.] According to this plan the women who wished to organize a society determined upon a certain day and place for a public meeting; all the women and the young girls of the neighborhood were invited to attend. Ministers were asked to announce this invitation from the pulpits, and a notice was placed in the post office. The object of the societies was to provide for the comfort of sick and wounded soldiers of the United States Army. The officers were as follows: a president, five vice-presidents, a secretary and treasurer, a committee on cutting, and another on packing.
The duties of the president were to preside at all meetings, to have the general interests of the society in charge, and to purchase all materials. Her duty it was likewise to present a plan for the ensuing month, after having consulted with the vice-presidents and the treasurer. One of the vice-presidents was to preside in the absence of the president; all five, in connection with the president and the secretary, were to devise means for improving and increasing the usefulness and efficiency of the society. At the meetings one of the vice-presidents distributed the work, supervised it generally, and collected it again. It was also the duty of the vice-presidents to canvass the village and neighborhood for the purpose of securing as many members as possible.44 [Ibid, pp. 370, 371.] It was suggested that a division into districts would facilitate the work. This proposal was accepted, and the vice-presidents in their respective districts explained the object of the society and endeavored to enlist the women's sympathy in its behalf. It was decided that no membership fee should be required.
The secretary-treasurer was to keep all the books of the society and conduct a correspondence with "that branch of the Sanitary Commission to which the supplies were to be sent." Her duty it was to write to the Commission for any information which might be desired by members of the society.
The cutting committee was to cut material into garments, according to approved patterns, and to have a sufficient quantity of work prepared for every meeting. The packing committee was to elect its own chairman, who was to make a detailed and accurate list of the contents of each box, while it was being packed. This list, with the name of the society written on it, as well as the name and post office address of the secretary, was to be placed immediately under the cover of the box or the barrel, while a duplicate invoice was to be sent without delay, to the secretary, who was to notify the Sanitary Commission by letter, of the consignment. Every box or package was to be distinctly addressed and marked on the outside with the name of the town or the village from which it was sent.
Meetings were to be held weekly or fortnightly at the option of the society. It was considered best to hold them in some regular place of assembly, such as the town-hall, court-house, public school-house, or church-vestry. 45 [Ibid, pp. 370, 371.] In one of the Wisconsin towns the aid society was sorely tried, for the mayor was a copperhead, and he forced the women to pay rent for the use of a room in the city hall.
The plan of organization has been fully described because it illustrates the excellent business sense of its originators,46 [This outline plan was prepared by Louisa Lee Schuyler.] and explains how these aid societies were able to accomplish such results.
In Brodhead, Wisconsin, a most interesting experiment was tried, the formation of a young people's society called the Alert Club. The object of this club was to furnish funds for the aid society, of which it was an auxiliary. According to its plan the village was to be divided into ten districts with four collectors for each. Twenty cents a month were to be collected from each woman, and as much as possible from each man. The collectors were to secure the subscriptions on the first Monday of each month, and to pay over the money to the aid society on the following Monday. Entertainments of various sorts, such as lawn sociables and strawberry feasts, were also to be given in order to raise money; and if the young women desired, they could make garments for the soldiers. This was not an obligatory duty, however, as the main purpose of the club was to provide funds for the mother society.
The Societies at Work
The work done at these meetings was of all sorts; but first and foremost lint was scraped, and for this purpose old table-cloths, rags, and even linen brought from former homes in the old country were used. One method of preparing the lint was to lay a plate bottom upward, on a table or on the lap of the operator, and to place a piece of linen on it; this was vigorously scraped with a case-knife until it was transformed into a fluffy mass of fibre.47 [J. H. Waterman, “Rosendale Squad,” in National Tribune, May 3, 1900.] Another method, which was to ravel the linen, was perhaps less strenuous. Thousands of bandages were likewise sewed and rolled up, ready for use. At the beginning of the war these were the two chief occupations; the women realized that bales of lint and bandages would be needed after each battle. It is needless to say, that had absorbent cotton been in use at that time, much labor might have been saved for other duties. The lack of modern pharmaceutical supplies, during the war, would appal a person living in this generation. It is difficult for us to realize how far surgery and the science of medicine have progressed during the last fifty years, although we know that in the Civil War period antiseptics were not commonly used, and few of the numerous conveniences and appliances which are in use today, could be resorted to.
Among the articles made at the aid societies were quilts and blankets, many of which had some cheering message, or the name of the maker sewn in them. Occasionally an interesting correspondence was started by this means. One Wisconsin quilt had a curious history. It was made in 1864 by the women of Green Bay, and sent to the army, where for twenty years all track of it was lost. Finally, in 1884, it was discovered in the cabin of a negro family living near Bentonville. The piece that remained contained eight blocks, each of which had in the centre a white cross running diagonally, while the outside pieces were of colored calico, bordered with white. On each square was written the name of its maker in indelible ink; a few of the blocks bore also timeworn inscriptions. 48 [Milwaukee Telegraph, Jan. 9, 1884.]
These verses illustrate the sturdy and uncompromising spirit of the makers of the quilt:
For the gay and happy soldier
We're contented as a dove.
But the man who will not enlist
Never can gain our love.
If rebels attack you, do run with the quilt
And safe to some fortress convey it;
For o'er the gaunt body of some old secesh
We did not intend to display it.
* * * * * *
"Twas made for brave boys, who went from the West; And swiftly the fair fingers flew, While each stitch, as It went to its place in the quilt, Was a smothered "God bless you, boys," too. 49 [Ibid.]
The comfort-bag or housewife, familiarly known as "hussy," was so much a necessary part of every well-provided soldier's equipment, that a detailed description may not be out of place. It was a small bag or needle-case containing half a dozen assorted needles, a skein of white cotton, a skein of black linen thread, half a dozen horn or porcelain shirt buttons, a dozen trouser buttons, a small ball of yam, a darning needle, and a few pins.50 [U. S. Sanitary Commission Bulletin, ii, p. 760.] Occasionally some careful mother or wife would add a small bottle of cayenne pepper, a package of court-plaster, or perhaps a bottle of quinine, which was thought at that time to be a panacea for all the ills that flesh is heir to. 51 [J. M. Aubery. Thirty-sixth Wisconsin Infantry (Milwaukee, 1900), p. 12.]
It would be impossible to overestimate the value of such a bag to a soldier in active service. One Wisconsin aid society received five hundred letters of thanks for the two thousand three hundred bags which it had sent out. Among these correspondents was one who declared that his housewife had been "worth ten dollars" to him.
Another soldier wrote to thank the women of Janesville for seventy or eighty beautiful needle-books "elegantly wrought and of invaluable utility.'' He further states, that soldiers have the poorest clothes of any class of people, yet are required to make them do the most service, and that the needle-books are in great requisition on Saturday nights, as the soldiers must then prepare for the Sunday morning inspection. 52 [Corres. Wis. Volunteers, v, p. 79.]
Blankets, quilts, and comfort-bags were not the only article made by the aid societies; all kinds of clothing, such as shirts, dressing gowns, underwear were prepared, the material for such articles being bought with the society's money. Flannel shirts seem to have been especially popular, for the women of Watertown made five hundred for the local company. In a few cases the aid societies even made uniforms for the soldiers, but this was only done occasionally during the first few months of the war. The Milwaukee Zouaves, for instance, were presented with fatigue uniforms consisting of brown trousers, hickory shirts, and red caps.53 [Id, i, p. 2.]
In order to illustrate what was done in the various aid-societies, the following testimony is quoted:
They made flannel blouses and shirts; if I remember aright, these were gray, as we knew that It was the safest color. But as the South had preempted that color, when more regular equipment was adopted our boys were given the next best, the light blue.
Both real flannel and cotton-flannel undergarments were made, and one woman was so expert in cutting, that she seriously strained her thumb, plying the shears. Good woolen socks were knit, or fished out of the home stock in baskets. Chests were ransacked for the substantial blankets that were woven on the looms of our mothers and grandmothers. Quilts were made and given. I remember giving away my pieced blocks, having a double thought, to do service and to get rid of finishing up the quilt. 54 [Ms. letter from Miss Simmons.]
A very popular as well as a necessary occupation was the knitting of socks, mittens, and gloves, especially a peculiar kind of mitten, which had a forefinger as well as a thumb, so that it could be used in shooting. This knitting occupation was kept up in public as well as in private, for women knitted while traveling, during spare minutes at home, or at the meetings of the aid society. One patriotic woman threw her religious scruples to the wind, and knitted a few rounds on Sunday before the church-bell rung. Even young girls knitted socks, and their grandmothers toed and heeled them. In fact there was a perfect epidemic of knitting, which lasted throughout the war.
Among the articles received by Wisconsin soldiers in 1862 were numerous pairs of mittens. "And if they could see the caps flying and hear the cheers that are sent up for the ladies of 'Old Grant' upon the receipt of these articles, they would feel well repaid for their trouble."55 [Corres. Wis. Volunteers, iii, p. 277.] Another soldier wrote:
A box of mittens from the ladies of Milwaukee was distributed by our returned chaplain on Thursday afternoon, and were just in time to do good service. The boys now gladly take the "mitt" from the girls they left behind them. May God prosper the good ladies of Milwaukee in their work of kind deeds. Their gifts touch the rough soldier's heart and call forth many prayerful thanks and thoughts of loved firesides they have left, to struggle for union and liberty.
Packing the Boxes
Besides making garments and knitting socks it was the pleasant duty of the aid societies to fill boxes with good things to eat, and many were the glasses of jelly, cakes, pastries of all sorts, meats, and every conceivable delicacy, which were packed together with clothing, books, and newspapers. J. H. Billings says in his Hard Tack and Coffee:
The art of box-packing must have culminated during the War. It was simply wonderful, delightfully so, to see how each little corner and crevice was utilized, not stuffed with paper (by those who understood their business), thus wasting space, but filled with a potato, an apple, an onion, a pinch of dried apples, a handful of peanuts, or some other edible substance. These and other articles filled crannies between carefully-wrapped glass jars or bottles of toothsome preserves, or boxes of butter, or cans of condensed milk, or well-roasted chickens, and the turkey each box was wont to contain. If there was a new pair of boots among the contents, the feet were filled with little notions of convenience.
There was likely to be, amid all the other merchandise already specified, a roll of bandages and lint. It added greatly to the pleasure of the investigator to come upon a nicely-wrapped package, labeled "from Mary," "from Cousin John," and perhaps a dozen other relatives, neighbors, schoolmasters, most of which contributions were delicious surprises, and many were accompanied by notes of personal regard and good wishes. 56 [Op. cit., p. 221.]
It is interesting to read of the boxes received by Wisconsin companies in 1861, and to note the contents and the comments made thereon. It seems that when the army was to remain in one place for two or three weeks, the average soldier mailed a letter home to his mother, father, wife, sister, or brother, and stated carefully what he would like to have sent in a box at the earliest possible moment, giving with great precision the address, to be written on the cover. 57 [Ibid, p. 217.]
Wisconsin Regiments Supplied
Shortly after the battle of Bull Run an appeal came to the women of Racine, stating that there was a great shortage of linen for the sick and wounded, and as a result of the battle the hospital would be overflowing with men. So the women of Racine met at the Presbyterian Church one evening to arrange for the making of garments for the sick and wounded in the hospitals at Washington. The material purchased was to be taken to the old Advocate reading-room in the Masonic Building, where it was to be cut out and delivered to those who wished to lend a helping hand. 58 [Corres. Wis. Volunteers, I, p. 118.]
In October, 1861, a cavalry company stationed at Ripon sent a most appreciative acknowledgement of the thirty- two quilts and blankets given them by the women of Berlin.59 [Id., ii, p. 66.]
A soldier of the Seventh Regiment writes in November, 1861, that the idea of raising money for blankets and clothing is a fine one, but that the Government supplies two heavy overcoats, one heavy roundabout, etc., and that these are quite enough to carry in one knapsack. He continues his comment by saying: "If privations should come later, we would be glad to avail ourselves of the opportunity of drawing on the liberality and kindness of the good folks of our native homes."60 [Id, I, p. 281.]
A letter from a member of the First Regiment, on the other hand, contains an appeal to the ladies of Jeffersonville and Port Fulton to provide blankets and other comforts for the sick soldiers.61 [Ibid, p. 59.] The First Regiment had been longer in the field and had presumably seen more active service than the Seventh, which may explain the different points of view.
A letter written in 1861 by a Beloit soldier to the people of his town, contains an almost pitiful appeal for supplies. He says:
I feel that the people of Beloit and its vicinity would consider It a pleasure to afford comforts to the soldiers, and especially to the soldiers from their own place. Many of our boys have but one blanket, and that single, and have received no overcoats, and consequently suffer from the cold. We have received no pay and the men have no way of making themselves comfortable. 62 [Id, ii, p. 78]
This letter must have brought a pang to the women of Beloit, who had worked so hard to make their boys comfortable, and it showed them also that better and securer means of transportation were needed for the supplies which were forwarded by the aid societies.
On Thanksgiving Day, 1861, the men of Company I of the Sixth Wisconsin Regiment were made very happy, for express wagons came to camp loaded with remembrances from home; and what could be more delightful than a bundle from mother, sister, or one still as dear, the girl he left behind him. In the boxes were "some stockings with the double heels and well-rounded toes, that mother carded, dyed, and spun, and sister knitted; some blue and white and red striped mittens with a place for the index finger. * * * Too much mince-pie and doughnuts caused some weak stomachs to ache, which was pronounced malaria, and remedied with the world's favorite prescription, quinine."63 [Earl M. Rogers, in Viroqua Leader (Nov. 21, 1906).]
About this time a soldier of the Eighth Regiment wrote: "If you have any old clothes lying around your sanctum, that will hold together in coming to us, send them; and if you have any patriotic old ladies in your part of the country, for peace's sake and the Union, set them to knitting stockings"—an appeal which probably stirred that patriotic women to whom it was addressed.
Contributions for Local Companies
During the early part of the year 1862, almost every box sent out from Wisconsin societies was designed for some specific military organization, and much delicacy was required on the part of the Sanitary Commission to temper the inevitable disappointment arising from the discovery that such stores could not always be forwarded by them to the designated address.64 [Henshaw, p. 35.]
Probably individual boxes continued to go to Wisconsin soldiers throughout the war, although less mention is made of them in the letters written in 1863 and 1864. Boxes for local companies also became less frequent, partly because they so often failed to reach their destination, and partly because the supplies were sent in care of the Sanitary Commission.
A step in the direction of general supplies was taken in 1862, when the Governor of Wisconsin called for contributions for Wisconsin soldiers, rather than for individuals or companies. This meant that the aid societies should in the future send boxes to Wisconsin soldiers whom they had perhaps never seen, instead of to their friends and neighbors; they afterwards came to see that all supplies should be sent to Union men, irrespective of state lines.
A Milwaukee Donation
After the battle of Pittsburg Landing, Governor Harvey called upon the women of Madison and Milwaukee for a supply of bandages and shirts to be sent with Surgeon-General Wolcott to Tennessee. 65 [E. B. Quiner, Military History of Wisconsin (Chicago, 1866), pp. 211, 212.] The response of Milwaukeeans was as spontaneous as it was generous. Circulars setting forth the matter were sent to every part of the city; and an appeal to the people was published in the daily Wisconsin. The result was that a swarm of people poured into the Chamber of Commerce with contributions.
A more cheering sight we never witnessed. Nothing like it was ever known in the history of Milwaukee. Men, women, and children came out from their homes with bundles, baskets, boxes, arms full and wagons full of valuable material, necessary articles, luxuries, and conveniences of various kinds – all of which will be needed, and will do some poor suffering soldier the good for which it was intended, when it reaches its place of destination. Some took large bundles, supplied with goods, fresh from the stores, from their wardrobes, their tables, etc., articles which had never been used. Among these were even new table-cloths, that had never been spread upon the table, new towels, and a splendid collection of preserved fruits.
But the simple offerings of the poor were none the less acceptable, although they may not be of so much use. These were the offerings of mothers, who have sent sons to the war, of sisters, who have sent brothers to the field, and many others in similar circumstances, who, although they were not able to give as liberally as others, yet the life-blood of their friends has perhaps been offered up * * * and the small donations, which they presented last night, were as cheerfully received as the richest, because they came from the heart and were an earnest of what they would do, if they could. 66 [Corres. Wis. Volunteers, vi, p. 51.]
There was one old lady, who went to the Chamber of Commerce from the outskirts of the city, with a small bundle of linen handkerchiefs, which had been worn, but her mite gave evidence of her will, had she had the ability to do better. Another old lady took a muslin skirt. She had nothing else she could give—and it was much for her. One little boy took some small volumes of books that had whiled away the hours of sick persons in his own home.67 [Ibid, p. 52.]
We heard of one lady, who was called upon by a neighbor, and asked to give something to send away, when she replied that really she didn't know what to send. "But stop a minute," said she, "here's something you might as well have," and she took six new shirts belonging to her husband out of the drawer and handed them over. On being expostulated with for sending new ones she said, "Oh! well, I can make more for my husband at any time, while the soldiers want them now." The lady was in good circumstances and could afford It, but doubtless many and many an Instance of this kind took place, where it could not be so well afforded, if the facts were all known. Such was the spirit that manifested itself yesterday.
Some sent boxes, some nails (these were useful for packing the goods), some entire pieces of sheeting, some sides of sole-leather (useful for splints), some wines, some magazines, and all descriptions of goods and luxuries were sent In. Wealthy citizens, who would never at any other time be seen with a bundle in their possession, now went to the rooms with their arms full of articles rolled up for the wounded soldiers. Ladies took their offerings often with their own hands, and sometimes having servants with them to carry the ponderous bundles and heavy baskets. 68 [Ibid, p. 52.]
By ten o'clock that night enough goods had been received and packed to fill about forty dry-goods boxes, and in addition the patriotic ladies, who formed an association for sending supplies to wounded soldiers, sent also some additional boxes.
The committee estimated that as a result of this remarkable manifestation, about ten thousand dollars worth of supplies had been contributed, which were sent directly to Pittsburg Landing, where Governor Harvey and a special committee were to distribute them.69 [Ibid, p. 52.]
Aid Societies Discouraged
Between July 1862 and July 1863, there was every reason for the women of the North to be discouraged. The whole North was appalled by the defeats sustained by the Union army; Vicksburg had not been captured, the Mississippi was still unopened, Missouri and Kentucky had been invaded, and Maryland and Pennsylvania had been raided; and the reports of the disastrous battles fought around Richmond were most discouraging—these almost paralyzed the activity of the Northern women, who simultaneously were informed that supplies, both private and public, did not reach their destination. Added to these calamities were the systematic assaults on the Sanitary Commission by the opponents of the administration.70 [Henshaw, p. 75.]
Such letters as the following could not have had a very cheerful effect upon the women. The writer says:
I must not forget to acknowledge the non-reception of that box of good things, which I am informed the ladies have started down this way for us. We feel grateful to the fullness of our souls for such a demonstration of remembrance, and although we have not received it and do not expect to, yet we appreciate such kindness toward us all the same.
Even more doleful is the tone of another communication:
At the time your Soldiers' Aid Society sent a box of things to St. Louis, soldiers from Racine lay sick in the hospital at Ironton, a branch of the St. Louis concern, and had not their company officers literally forced the managers of the hospital to admit their comrades to take care of them, these sick men would have died from sheer neglect. How much good has the Soldiers' Aid Society of Racine done these volunteers from Racine? 71 [Corres. Wis. Volunteers, ii, p. 26.]
This letter must have aroused much impotent anger and sorrow in the breasts of the loyal women of Racine, all the more on account of the apparent hopelessness of mending the situation.
The climax was reached, however, in the following sarcastic remarks:
But the grand hoax is with the females and societies. The dear creatures exert themselves to send some luxury to wounded or sick soldiers that have left home, friends, and comforts of almost every kind. * * * But very few privates ever get a smell of any article they send, unless by an agent. Well, you will ask why? I will tell you. In the first place the officer of the post has the first taste, and then it goes through the hands of doctors, stewards, cooks, and ward-masters, and all have a taste; also their friends, and if the plate ever gets to the sick room, which it seldom does, it is empty; and I hope the supply will be stopped. Give what you have to give to the poor among you, but do not let your charities be so basely misapplied.72 [Ibid, p. 205.]
After such attacks as this, many of the aid societies became irresolute and disheartened, and a few even ceased to work. The Commission received a great number of complaints, requests for explanation, and letters of protest. The following communication is typical:
I am called upon by the women of our town to say to you, that they wish to contribute to the sick and wounded, if they can. But sick soldiers and wives who have returned with their wounded husbands, tell us, that the sick do not and will not get the things we send them.
At a regular meeting during this period it was actually discussed whether the Sanitary Commission ought not to be discontinued. "If we are really of no use, what is the use of continuing our labors?" said one of the workers. But there was a fearful increase of sickness in the Western armies, and there were still many loyal aid societies who continued the work. Moreover, when they understood the situation, they realized that single packages or boxes could not be accounted for, because the things they contained were repacked at Chicago, and sent in different boxes, to different parts of the army.73 [Henshaw, pp. 75, 80.]
The National Spirit Grows
The Northwest was remote from the rest of the nation, and much time elapsed before the national aid idea penetrated our section. As late as 1863, societies wished occasionally to benefit their own regiments, which the Sanitary Commission also allowed in some few cases. At one time the members of a Wisconsin delegation, eager to help certain Wisconsin soldiers, obtained access to a certain hospital in the Army of the Cumberland. After a short time, they realized their selfishness in bestowing their gifts upon a few, wherefore they dropped their original plan and included all the patients in their ministrations. One Wisconsin soldier, who appreciated this change, said: "I am glad that they gave to the rest of the soldiers; it made me feel bad yesterday when the Ohio boy in the next cot got nothing, and I had so much; but when they were gone, I made it even.''74 [Ibid, pp. 108, 109]
It may be considered, that there were three stages in the work of the Wisconsin aid societies—the first, the period of individualism; the second that of State aid, regardless of local interests; and the third the period of aid to the nation. It must not be supposed, however, that this progress was systematic and continuous, for individual and local boxes were sent throughout the war, and the stage of national relief did not preclude that of State relief. By the summer of 1863, however, Wisconsin women had arrived at Frederick Law Olmstead's conclusion, "It is, to say the least, a higher form of benevolence and of patriotism, which asks only to have a reasonable assurance that the soldiers of the Union will be helped by our offerings when and where they must need our help, and it is only by the exercise of this larger benevolence, that measures of relief can be taken at all adequate to the necessities of the army, or commensurate with the grandeur of its purposes."75 [U. S. Sanitary Commission Documents (New York, 1866), No. 50.
This thought was also expressed by Mrs. Teale of Allen's Grove, who said: "In the light of war, I view every loyal soldier as my brother.”76 [Corres. Wis. Volunteers, v, p. 270.]
There were several reasons for the changed attitude of Wisconsin women by July, 1863. As has been stated, boxes which were sent directly to individuals, failed often to reach their destination, and the aid societies had finally become convinced that the only sure method of reaching the front was through the Commission. They had also learned, that supplies sent through the Commission really reached the army, for many of them had adopted the expedient of pinning notes requesting replies, in the pockets of dressing gowns, to shirt-bosoms, in the toes of socks, or in any other places where the soldier, who received the article, would be likely to find the message. And when they began to receive responses to their notes, they realized that the Union soldiers were really profiting by their exertions. Moreover, they were reassured when agents were sent to the South to find out what actually became of their sanitary supplies. Most important of all was a change of feeling, which spread rapidly over the North; the "first flush of hope and the reaction of disappointment had passed, and the people addressed themselves firmly and steadily to the task of saving the country.''77 [Henshaw, p. 75.] New aid societies were formed, and the old ones stimulated to renew their efforts, even after such defeats as those at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville.
Another cause of the renewed life in the aid societies was the energy of the Commission itself. In sheer desperation it had finally appealed to the churches and especially to the ministers in the Northwest, who did a remarkable work in stirring up patriotism, and in encouraging the formation of new aid societies. Moreover, the stirring appeals of Mrs. Hoge and Mrs. Livermore aroused Wisconsin women to new exertions.
So the Wisconsin societies began anew to work for the Commission, and contributions poured into the Chicago Branch "like a Western freshet." From four boxes a day in December, 1862, the number increased to 100 boxes a day in February, 1863.78 [Ibid, p. 102.] From 250 aid societies connected with the Chicago Branch, the number increased to 1,000; so that by the summer of 1863, the Commission had entered upon the most prosperous period of its existence, and Wisconsin women were straining every nerve to do their share.
What the societies of Wisconsin accomplished was all the more remarkable, when the difficulties under which they worked are considered. Throughout the war Wisconsin labored under disadvantages due to the sparseness of her settlement. She was poor, compared with the Eastern states, and time given to such charitable purposes meant money; for if women attended aid societies, they could do less in their homes.
That the societies were often destitute of funds, and almost heroic in raising them, the following letter from a woman in Melrose shows:
We have not an average attendance of more than six. To raise funds to work with, we went around, and solicited donations of wheat from the farmers. We sent it eighteen miles to market, sold it, and bought materials. Though our offering is small, we hope it will do some good.79 [Letter of Mrs. H. A. Pollis, in Henshaw, p. 125.]
As the war went on, housekeepers drew more and more upon their own supplies, especially in the country. The cellar was again and again invaded, and family stores, whether of bedding or clothing, were called into requisition.80 [Ibid, p. 125.] In one case the wife of a minister stripped her beds so bare for the soldiers, that her husband was forced to appeal to the good women of the church for a cover for the night.81[Ms. letter of Miss Simmons]
Another line of aid society work grew up in the spring of 1863; namely, the sending of vegetables to the army as "anti-scorbutics" or preventatives of scurvy—a dreadful disease, caused by a lack of fresh fruit and vegetables. On March 4, 1863, the Chicago Branch issued an appeal to the Northwest for vegetables for Grant's army. The short, but urgent circular read, "General Grant's army in danger of scurvy. Rush forward anti-scorbutics." This message was sent to Milwaukee, Beloit, Madison, Racine, Sheboygan, Whitewater, and other towns, and the response was characteristic of the spirit of Wisconsin women. Although it was March, the weather rainy, and the roads very muddy, committees went abroad wherever telegrams were received or newspapers read, begging anti-scorbutics for the soldiers.
The movement was well organized; towns were divided into districts, every house was visited, and a central depot of supplies established. In the country these committees drove round in wagons, begged as they went from house to house, and took with them what was given. This was done day after day, first in one direction, then in another, through mud and rain, by men and women of all classes. Delicate women who could scarcely endure exposure, farmers' wives who could ill afford the time, tradesmen, and even clergymen went out on this generous mission. To remarks which were made, deprecating such effort, the answer was, "Our soldiers do not stop for the weather; neither must we."82 [Henshaw, p. 118.]
A fearful drought during the preceding summer, and a rot caused by the following wet winter, had greatly affected the supply of vegetables. In Illinois and Michigan there was a great dearth of them, but Wisconsin and Iowa were fortunately better off. So whatever supply there was in a home, was cheerfully divided "with the soldiers. 83 [Ibid, p. 118.] In quantities, descending from bushels to pecks, from pecks to quarts, from quarts to handfuls, the precious stores were gathered. Pickles were brought out, cabbage pits opened and rifled, horseradish was dug up and forwarded.
Consignments were rushed to Chicago from Wisconsin, which filled the depot, overflowed on to the sidewalks, and even encroached upon the street in front of the Commission rooms. As fast as the vegetables arrived, they were sent South, and their places taken by other consignments. Milwaukee, West Milwaukee, Racine, and Whitewater were especially energetic, and hurried on carload after carload of precious, homely vegetables; a few farmers from Windsor, Bristol, and Spring Prairie forwarded 228 bushels. 84[Ibid, p. 120.]
The activity of the aid societies was astonishing. Besides the regular meetings, extra ones were called. The neighborhood was canvassed, and the begging-committee was ordered to report on certain days, when the members of the society gathered, anxious to hear the result. Whoever was present, was courteously asked to assist in preparing the sauerkraut and the horseradish, and in packing and forwarding these articles, as well as onions and potatoes.85[Ibid, p. 121.]
The reunions of the aid societies were turned into pickling meetings. Barrels and kegs were begged and purchased, sauerkraut cutters were borrowed or hired, and men were employed to use them in cutting the cabbage to the requisite fineness; then aids packed it with layers of salt, and poured vinegar over the whole. Grating committees, amid much rallying, and with many tears, courageously attended to the horseradish.
Soon a "line of vegetables" connected Chicago and Vicksburg, maintained by the shipment of a hundred barrels a day.86 [Ibid, p. 121.] The importance of this movement on the part of the loyal women can hardly be overestimated, as it was an .emergency which the Government could not have successfully met without the aid of the Sanitary Commission. This movement did more to establish its reputation for usefulness, than all previous efforts in other directions.87 [Sanitary Reporter (published by the U. S. Sanitary Commission, Louisville), Nov. 1, 1863.
It was not only Grant's army that was threatened with scurvy, but also the Army of the Cumberland, and there is no doubt that the fresh vegetables and dried fruit sent from the North acted as a successful preventive. But the disease was not yet conquered; in April, 1864, another call was made for anti-scorbutics, and again the rooms of the Chicago Commission were inundated with vegetables; the shipments from Wisconsin were so great, that a special mention of the Wisconsin aid societies was made in Mrs. Livermore's communication of July, 1864.88 [Henshaw, p. 234.]
Not only vegetables came in numbers, but "rivers of blackberry-juice" flowed in from all parts of the country; the supply was not sufficient, however, and a call was therefore again issued for dried fruits of all sorts. The circular reads: "The army is leading the same life, eating the same food, and incurring the same risks." 89 [U. S. Sanitary Commission Bulletin, Sept. 15, 1864.] The Commission goes on to express its strong disapproval of canned fruit, and gives directions for drying peaches by dividing them into halves, and placing them on sloping boards in the sun or in slightly-heated ovens; this was such a simple task, that even children were urged to do it. The latter were also asked to have little gardens, where they could raise fresh vegetables for the soldiers. The whole crusade against scurvy shows the efficiency of the Commission machinery, as well as the splendid generosity and enterprise of the women of the Northwest.
So far, concrete instances have been given of the helpfulness of Wisconsin's women; a few statistics will give a better idea of the amount of work actually accomplished. In September, 1863, Wisconsin societies sent 110 packages from Milwaukee, Prairie du Chien, Watertown, Appleton, Beloit, etc. Compared with the other Northwestern states, namely, Illinois, Michigan, and Iowa, Wisconsin was number four on the list. In October packages came from Hartford, East Delavan, Green Bay, Madison, Oshkosh, Sheboygan, and Watertown. The whole number of packages was now 201, and Wisconsin was number three on the list. By November Elkhorn, Fox Lake, Hazel Green, Salem, and other towns were sending large contributions, and as a result Wisconsin headed the list with 510 packages. In December the number of packages had dropped to 301, but Wisconsin was still in the lead, a most remarkable fact, considering the State was but fifteen years old and had a small population.90 [Northwestern Sanitary Commission Reports, Sept-Dec., 1863.]
Not only packages, but money was sent from Wisconsin to the Chicago Branch of the Commission. The money came from individuals, from aid societies, and from church collections, especially those taken at Thanksgiving time. The largest contributions of money and packages came from the Milwaukee Branch. None of the amounts exceeded one hundred dollars, and many of them were small; but poor communities did their best, and showed their kind spirit in forwarding as much as they could afford.
The aid societies contributed more generously in 1864 than the year before. In March the number of packages received by the Chicago Branch was 2,314. Of this number Wisconsin sent 629 packages, more than any other state. In April the number from Wisconsin increased to 776 packages out of a total of 1,810, placing her again at the head of the list. Wisconsin furnished in May 416 packages out of 1,974, with only Iowa and Illinois surpassing her.91 [Id, March to June, 1864.]
Conditions were different in 1864 from those of the preceding years. Out of every $100,000 worth of sanitary supplies in 1862, $90,000 worth came from the people, without any cost to the Commission; but out of $100,000 worth of supplies in 1864, $80,000 worth had to be bought with ready money.92 [Id., May and June, 1864.] This was due to the fact that homes had become exhausted, and that people who contributed to the sanitary fairs felt less like going outside of their own homes to buy the articles desired. Since sanitary supplies were needed as much at this time as earlier, it is gratifying to know that Wisconsin responded so well to the appeal of the Commission.
Summing up the work of the Northwestern states, we find that Wisconsin was the second on the list with regard to the number of packages contributed; and third in money contributions. She sent 8,896 packages, while Illinois surpassed her with 12,112. In money our State contributed during the four years of the War, $10,958.64.93 [Henshaw, p. 314.]
The Wisconsin Soldiers' Aid Society, and Mrs. Henrietta Colt
The Milwaukee Branch had so remarkable a history and such an efficient secretary that it has seemed best to give it a chapter to itself. On April 19, 1861, a large number of Milwaukee women assembled in a school-room for the purpose of organization. They had been much agitated over the reports from the South, concerning illness among Wisconsin soldiers, and the need for post and general hospitals. Mrs. Margaret Jackson of Louisville, Kentucky, and Mrs. Louisa Delafield had awakened much interest in such matters. 94 [L. P. Brockett and M. C. Vaughn, Women’s Work in the Civil War (Boston, 1868), p. 607.] At this meeting was organized the Ladies' Association of Milwaukee, with the following officers: President, Mrs. C. A. Riehr; Vice-Presidents, Mrs. Delafield, Mrs. McClure, Mrs. Jackson, and Mrs. Colt; Secretaries, Mrs. Ogden and Mrs. Dousman; Treasurer, Mrs. John Nazro.
Correspondence was opened with the surgeons of the regiments and with members of the Sanitary Commission, in order to gather such information as would enable the new organization to do its work intelligently. The first donations were sent to St. Louis, where many Wisconsin soldiers were efficiently cared for.
As time went on other Wisconsin societies "wished to become auxiliary to the Milwaukee Branch, so the latter changed its name to the Wisconsin Aid Society,95 [Ibid, p. 607.] and became a channel for Wisconsin benevolence. At the reorganization a notable woman, Mrs. Henrietta Colt, became corresponding secretary, and from this time on her public life is so interwoven with this society, that it becomes necessary to speak of her in more detail.
Like many Wisconsin women of her day, she had spent her younger days in New York state, where she had married Joseph S. Colt, a well-known lawyer of Albany. In 1853 they came to Milwaukee, where they remained for three years. At their expiration Mr. Colt returned East, where he died, leaving an honored name.96 [C. R. Tuttle, Illustrated History of the State of Wisconsin (Boston, 1875), p. 717.] His widow and her family made their future home in Milwaukee.
Mrs. Colt was fitted by nature as well as by training to be a leader among women. Without being beautiful, she possessed an attractive personality, was a lady in the best and truest sense of this word, while her social graces were no less than the firmness, executive ability, and enthusiasm which characterized her mind. A wirter who saw her in 1863 says:
I was much impressed with her intelligence, her purity of character, the beautiful blending of her religious and patriotic tendencies, the gentleness and tenderness with which she ministered to sick soldiers, and the spirit of dignity and humanity that marked her manners and conversation. 97[Brockett, p. 610.]
A finer analysis of her character and public life is this:
Into Mrs. Colt's public efforts was infused a species of mild audacity peculiarly her own. It was as though she had emerged from the retirement of private life under a sort of mental protest; as though she were nerved up to a conscious daring, and deprecated, yet defied criticism. There was in her letters to the Commission, during the earlier part of the war, a passionate ring, a pleading pathos, that revealed a nature in whose depths were concealed the noblest possibilities.98 [Henshaw, p. 209.]
Visits to Southern Hospitals
Mrs. Colt's most useful public work was done in the South, where she was sent in order to stimulate supplies at home by reporting what benefits were really conferred by the Sanitary Commission.99 [Brockett, p. 611.] On January 5, 1863, an order was written by the president of the Chicago Sanitary Commission to the officers in command of the United States Army, giving Mrs. Hoge and Mrs. Colt the right to visit the hospitals and camps in and about Vicksburg and Memphis, to distribute supplies for the Chicago Sanitary Commission, and to "report to this Commission everything in regard to the need of sanitary stores, the kinds wanted, the best method of preparing and forwarding, and whatever else may be important or valuable for our Commission to know."1 [N. W. Sanitary Commission Report.]
Early in 1863 the two women left Chicago for Vicksburg with a large quantity of sanitary stores. Sherman had just been defeated, so there was much suffering in the army. The boat on which they travelled, was seized as a military transport at Columbus, and pressed into the fleet of General Sherman. General Fisk's headquarters were on this same boat, and he gave the women every facility for carrying on their sanitary work. Their stores were practically the only ones on the fleet, which was composed of thirty ships, filled with fresh troops, whose ranks were soon thinned by illnesss. The boat became the refuge for the sick and wounded of Fisk's brigade, and the women nursed hundreds of men and saved many valuable lives.2 [Brockett, p. 568.]
In March, 1863, Mrs. Colt went South again, this time with Mrs. Livermore and other members of the Sanitary Commission. They were to visit every hospital from Cairo to Young's Point, opposite Vicksburg, and their duties were to relieve the most pressing needs of the soldiers, to be useful to the sick, to cooperate with medical and military authorities, and to report the result of their observations in the Chicago papers and the bulletins of the Sanitary Commission. They had also with them stores necessary for sanitary relief, especially vegetables for patients threatened with scurvy. They carried 500 private boxes; and volunteered through the daily papers to take letters, messages, and small packages to army people on their route, and to deliver them, if possible. The sanitary stores were to be distributed among the matrons in the hospitals.3 [Livermore, p. 282.]
Mrs. Colt visited also the Army of the Cumberland and saw every hospital soldier of the Wisconsin troops.4 [Brockett, p. 612.] In speaking of these visits, she says:
I have visited seventy-two hospitals and would find it difficult to choose the most remarkable among the many heroisms I every day witnessed. I was more impressed by the gentleness and refinement that seemed to grow up in the men, when suffering from horrible wounds, than by anything else. It always seemed to me, that the sacredness of the cause for which they offered their lives, gave to them a heroism almost superhuman, and the sufferings caused an almost womanly refinement among the coarsest men. I have never heard a word or seen a look, that was not respectful and grateful. 5 [Tuttle, p. 717.]
Again she says:
I saw 600 wounded men with gaping, horrible head and hip gun-shot wounds. * * * I could have imagined myself among men gathered on cots for some joyous occasion, all except one man, utterly disabled for life; not a regret, and even he thanked God devoutly, that, if his life must be given up then, it should be given for his country. After a little, as the thought of his wife and babies came to him, I saw a terrible struggle; the great beads of sweat, and the furrowed brow were more painful than the bodily suffering. But when he saw the look and heard the passage, "He doeth all things well," whispered to him, he became calm and said, "He knows best, my wife and children will be in His care, and I am content." 6 [Brockett, p. 612.]
Concerning the Memphis hospitals she declared:
Among the beardless boys it was all heroism. They gained the victory, they lost a leg there, they lost an arm, and Arkansas Post was taken; they were proud to have helped in the cause. It enabled them, apparently with little effort, to remember the great, the holy cause and give leg, arm, and even life cheerfully for its defense. I know now that love of country Is the strongest love, next to love of God, given to man.
After her return from the South, Mrs. Colt spoke to many aid societies in different parts of Wisconsin; wherever she appeared, renewed interest and enthusiasm ensued.
Milwaukee Society Enlarged
Meanwhile the Milwaukee society broadened its scope, until it included several departments. Its first purpose was to forward supplies, but it also assisted soldiers' families to get payments from the State; secured employment for soldiers' wives and mothers, through contracts with the Government; found employment for partially disabled soldiers, and provided for widows and orphans.8 [Love, pp. 1050, 1051.]
Early in its history, its officers decided to send supplies through the Chicago and St. Louis commissions, but so well were the contents of the boxes assorted and packed at Milwaukee, that they were sent straight to the front, without being inspected by the Chicago Branch. As Alfred Bloor says: "Not an article is repacked for transmission to Chicago and the front, which has not been put into perfect order, nor a potato rebarrelled, which has not had its evil eye eradicated, nor an onion that is not hard and sound peeled in the pickling-room."9 [U. S. Sanitary Commission Bulletin, iii, p. 909.]
Between 1861 and 1865 the Milwaukee Branch received about fifty boxes from each of the following towns: Appleton, Almond, Berlin, Beloit, Baraboo, Columbus, Delavan, Fox Lake, Green Bay, Janesville, Kenosha, Milwaukee, Mazomanie, Oak Creek, Prairie du Sac, Portage, Port Washington, Ripon, and Wauwatosa.10 [Mrs. J. S. Colt, in Wisconsin Soldiers’ Aid Society Report (Milwaukee, 1863).] It received during 1864, 2,142 boxes, containing such articles as shirts, sheets, pillows, pillow-cases, comforts, blankets, bedticks, wrappers, coats, vests, trousers, towels, handkerchiefs, socks, armrests, pads, cushions, bandages, canned fruits, dried fruits, groceries, butter, cheese, wine, eggs, pickles, vegetables, and a few books and magazines.
One of the valuable services rendered by the society was the sending of fruit to the army. After the battle of Resaca, they sent to every wounded man within reach, a fresh orange or lemon to ease the burning thirst which usually accompanies a wound.11 [Ibid.]
Chamber of Commerce
The supplies sent during 1864 amounted in value to about $25,000, and this from a commonwealth with no large cities and a population far from wealthy. In order to secure such results nine hundred circulars were sent to every part of the State. Money was also collected under the good management of Mrs. Colt. In March and April, 1864, between $5,000 to $6,000 was contributed to the Wisconsin Society, and a monthly subscription of $1,000 was promised by the Milwaukee Chamber of Commerce; this donation was to be paid regularly until the close of the war.12 [Ibid.]
This subscription was secured in large part through Mother Bickerdyke's13 [A well-known army nurse.] effort, who visited Milwaukee at the request of Mrs. Hoge and Mrs. Livermore. The Aid Society had already asked the Chamber of Commerce for an appropriation for wounded soldiers, but the president stated that the last regiment sent out from Milwaukee had cost their organization so much, that it could not afford to make a contribution to the Aid Society. On the receipt of this reply Mrs. Bickerdyke made a most unexpected speech. She portrayed the life of a private soldier, his privations, his sufferings, and his patriotism. She contrasted this with the sordid love of gain which not only shrank from sacrifices, but even begrudged the pittance necessary to relieve the suffering of the men:
And you, merchants and rich men of Milwaukee, living at your ease, dressed In your broadcloth, knowing little of and caring less for the sufferings of these soldiers from hunger and thirst, from cold and nakedness, from sickness and wounds, from pain and death, all incurred that you may roll in wealth, and your houses and little ones be safe; you will refuse to give aid to these poor soldiers, because, forsooth, you gave a few dollars some time ago to fit out a regiment. Shame on you. You are not men—you are cowards—go over to Canada—thls country has no place for such creatures! 14 [Brockett, p. 178.]
After this impassioned philippic the Chamber of Commerce reconsidered its act, and made the appropriation.
Not only were supplies sent to Chicago and St. Louis, but generous contributions were sent to Camp Reno, Camp Washburn, and the Harvey Hospital at Madison. A summary of the amounts received and disbursed shows that between October 19, 1861, and December 1, 1865, $23,000 were received from Milwaukee citizens and $5,000 from other parts of the State. If the contract for Government clothing is added-to these sums, about $30,000 were received, and disbursed as follows: material for clothing, pickles, etc., $17,813; sent St. Louis Sanitary Commission $200, and Chicago Commission $2,410; $455 was paid to Mrs. Bickerdyke; $250 to the Harvey Hospital; while the sum of $5,067.90 was paid over to soldiers' wives and widows, and sick and wounded soldiers.15[Wis. Aid Society Report.]
Mrs. Colt says of the work of this department: "We are proud that Wisconsin, without the excitement of a fair, and remote from the seat of Government, has done her work so well.'' She states also, that the gifts from Wisconsin people during the war amounted to $200,000, and that the whole number of packages sent to soldiers was 6,000. Beyond a doubt the Wisconsin Aid Society was, next to the Chicago Branch, the strongest organization of its kind in the Northwest.16 [Frank Moore, Women of the War (Hartford, 1867), p. 581.
Work for Soldiers' Wives
From a social and economic point of view the industrial aid department was most interesting, for it grew up in response to a very strong demand—namely, that of the mothers, wives, and children of the soldiers for aid and financial assistance.
Mrs. Colt went to Washington and appealed to the quartermaster-general for a share of army clothing, to be made up by soldiers' families. She succeeded so well, that material for twelve thousand garments was secured. By such methods as this, the industrial aid department was enabled to do its work, without taking a dollar from any soldiers' aid society.17 [Wis. Aid Society Report.]
The officers of this department were: President, Mrs. William Jackson; Vice-President, Mrs. C. V. Kelley; Treasurer, Miss Lottie Ilsley. Under their energetic administration the work went swiftly forward, and the Government clothing was soon given out. This was done with great discrimination; widows and women having large families of small children, were always given the preference. Soon four hundred and seventy-five women were set to work, and the members of the society were kept busy cutting, folding, giving out, and inspecting from eight hundred to eleven hundred garments each week. But they gave their time and services willingly, upheld by the thought that these wives and mothers of soldiers were encouraged to work for themselves, and were saved from the humiliation of receiving charity.
In addition to the contract received from the general Government, the society applied to the State quartermaster-general at Madison for clothing to be made, and through this channel material for 1,904 pairs of army trousers was secured. It was really gratifying to find how large a number of women were capable of making these articles well; it was said of all the contracts, that the work was done in a very creditable manner. Fortunately the society through the kindness of the Milwaukee & Prairie du Chien Railroad secured free transportation from Milwaukee to Madison for the weekly transfer.
A letter written by Alfred Bloor, a member of the Sanitary Commission, contains an appreciation of the work done by Mrs. Colt. He says therein:
In the midst of the elect ladies sits the one, who not only gives all her days and sometimes sleepless nights to the Wisconsin Society, but, who two or three months ago, braving railroad smashes, Mosby's guerrillas, and all other perils of the road, journeyed all alone to Washington, and by her Napoleonic tactics so softened the hearts of stern officials of the Quartermaster's department—no, for it is too serious a matter for jesting—by her graphic representation of these very women now before me, soldiers' wives and widows. Waiting for back pay or pension, through months and sometimes for over a year with the "hope deferred that maketh the heart sick"—waiting on such days as this, with hungry children cowering around her fireless hearth; by the power of truth and her pathetic delineations of the alternative if the boon were refused * * * obtained a Government contract for the making up of soldiers' underclothes, and it is by the work and pay afforded them, in sewing these clothes, that these poor women get the tea to soften their bread, and the salt and flour to flavor their children's potatoes.
Another important phase of the work of this department, was obtaining the money allowed by the laws of Wisconsin to the families of soldiers in the field, but which most of them were helpless to get for themselves; thus they often fell into the hands of interested persons, or still worse, became prey to sharpers who devour widows' houses, and afflict the fatherless child. Mr. Bloor continues his letter as follows:
In this room is a branch bureau of the great and beneficient Special Relief System of the Commission, and it has been organized by and is carried on under the instruction of the Secretary of State for Wisconsin. * * * Over this bureau presides the wife of an eminent judge * * * and on the table before her lie numerous blanks, which are rapidly being filled in by herself and her assistant. As fast as they are signed (or marked) by the claimants, they are laid together to be forwarded to Madison * * * for official action.
By her side lies a pile of bank checks, the fruit of former papers of the same kind, substantiating similar claims to payment of State dues. You should see how that poor German woman's square, heavy face, reddened by the frost and hardened by poverty and anxiety, refines and lightens up, as the stuff for the garment Is put Into her hands; or better still, the price of those she brings back, is handed to her to be exchanged for some little article of necessity, or to her luxury for herself or child. Or still better, as the pen is put Into her fingers for the stiff, angular, black-letter-like German signature, that looks so hard and crabbed to English script-reading eyes, or is guided over the paper to form the cross, which indicates "her mark," which mark, simple as it is, is the "open sesame" to a Golconda of several greenbacks; or best of all, as the sundry dollars collected on a check in her favor are consigned to the depths of her glove, her handkerchief or her pocket. What a pity, she can't lay down her cross, once for all, when putting it on paper, and that she couldn't get a check cashed every week, without having to bear it.18 [U. S. Sanitary Commission Bulletin, iii, p. 910.]
At the close of the war this department had funds enough to relieve widows with families of small children who had not yet received their pensions. One member of the board arranged an operatic entertainment, which realized three hundred dollars. This sum was used for the purchase of wood and provisions, and a fund for small loans. The only regret of these women was that they were unable to do more for the needy, and especially for the disabled soldier "who prefers staying with his family to receiving help elsewhere."19 [Wis. Aid Society Report.]
Conditions at Home
The maid who binds her warrior's sash With smile that well her pain dissembles, The while beneath her drooping lash One starry tear-drop hangs and trembles, Though Heaven alone records the tear, And Fame shall never know her story, Her heart has shed a drop as dear As e'er bedewed the field of glory! The wife who girds her husband's sword, ‘Mid little ones who weep or wonder, And bravely speaks the cheering word, What though her heart be rent asunder, Doomed nightly in her dreams to hear The bolts of death around him rattle, Hath shed as sacred blood as e'er Was poured upon the field of battle!
The mother who conceals her grief While to her breast her son she presses, Then breathes a few brave words and brief, Kissing the patriot brow she blesses, With no one but her secret God To know the pain that weighs upon her, Sheds holy blood as e'er the sod Received on Freedom's field of honor! 20 [Thomas Buchanan Read, “Wagoner of the Alleghanies,” in Poetical Works (Philadelphia, 1883), p. 257.
At the outbreak of the war, hard times set in throughout the North and continued until the autumn of 1862. Many families roasted dandelion-root with pure coffee, others used parched corn or rye as a substitute for coffee; brown sugar was used instead of white; in fact, luxuries did not appear on the table of the people during this period, and none were ashamed of their frugal repasts. The wearing of plain clothes became a fashion as well as a virtue. An opera was only occasionally heard, and theatre performances were few; amusements took on a character adapted to the existing conditions of life. A popular lecture, a concert, a church sociable with a charade relating to some striking event of the war, a gathering of young men and women to scrape lint for the wounded—these were the diversions from the overpowering anxiety weighing upon the people. 21 [James Ford Rhodes, History of the United States from 1850 to 1877 (New York, 1906), v, p. 190.
From July 1862 to July 1863, the whole North was cast into despondency by the reverses at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville.
During that year social clubs ceased to meet. Men when they heard of a disaster would give up some festive entertainment, would forego even a quiet evening at cards. They had no disposition for mirth. Their hearts were with their dead and wounded fellow-citizens on the Southern battlefield; they sat in quiet and brooded over their country's reverses. No thoughtful American opened his morning paper without dreading to find that he had no longer a country to love and honor. 22 [Ibid, pp. 197, 198.]
If the men of the North were thus affected, the women who had sent their sons, husbands, or brothers to the front were even more saddened. In fact the heartrending anxiety and dreadful suspense, added to the fear of defeat, made the days gloomy and weary. Women waited with bated breath for the latest list of killed and wounded; they haunted the post-offices, and eagerly scanned the bulletin boards; and in the face of all this, they had to keep on with their work for the soldiers and the care of their families.
The wives and mothers of the common soldiers have had no annals written in books. Nevertheless to really understand and appreciate their patriotism and loyalty, the conditions under which they lived must be taken into consideration.
Provision for Volunteers' Families
When the soldiers marched away, they did so with the assurance that their families would be provided for in the following ways: In the first place, each private was to receive thirteen dollars a month and about fifty-two dollars in addition for his clothing. Such portion of his wages as he could save, would be sent to his family by means of allotment-commissioners, officials employed by the State for this purpose. The State of Wisconsin also gave additional money to the wives of volunteers, which amounted to five dollars a month with an additional sum of two dollars for each child. Besides these sums the citizens of some towns raised a fund for the families of the volunteers. Beloit secured $2,500; Platteville, $1,500; while Madison had a fund of $7,490 for that purpose. In several counties the families of volunteers were provided for by means of a special tax, which in Green County amounted to $56,000.23 [Love, pp. 130, 136, 137.]
Destitution at Home
In certain towns wealthy citizens promised to see that no soldier's family should want for necessities of life. Had their families would have been well taken care of, and less all these plans worked to perfection, the war-widows and destitution would have occurred than did exist to a certain degree throughout the war. Among the causes for this sad condition the following may be cited. The volunteers were not paid on time, again and again soldiers complained that they had not received any pay for six months or longer.
Whilst sitting by his warm fire, well fed and well clad, does there never rise before him a sad picture of the hundreds of thousands of wives, mothers, and children left at home, entirely dependent for the absolute necessities of life on the monthly remittance of husbands and fathers now fighting our battles? Does he never realize the fact of the advanced prices of fuel and of food? Does he forget that many of the privates now in the army have left little homes behind them on which taxes are to be paid, and that those homes are now being sold for the payment of those taxes? I offer him pictures of little children, barefooted amongst the snows of * * * Wisconsin, of a half- clad mother's shivering, and without the means of purchasing fuel, over the body of her dying child. The hardships of a private's family are much greater than his in the field. 24 [Corres. Wis. Volunteers, iii, p. 246.]
This picture may be somewhat exaggerated perhaps; but the fact remains, that through the slowness of the Government to pay its defenders, much suffering was caused at home that might otherwise have been avoided. The following serves very well as an illustration of governmental red-tape. Because the adjutant-general of Wisconsin failed to receive the reports of the Fourth Regiment for January, February, March, and April 1862,25 [The reports for January and February seem to have been lost; those for March and April were not forwarded, through a misunderstanding.] the soldiers' families in Whitewater, Ripon, Sheboygan, Kilboum City, Jefferson, Geneva, Hudson, Oconto, Sparta, and Chilton were during those four months compelled to get along without any assistance from their relatives in the field.26 [Corres. Wis. Volunteers, iii, p. 119.]
It is not surprising that soldiers complained bitterly over the existing conditions. One of them wrote:
I candidly believe, that a large proportion of the sickness of our regiment Is owing to the men not getting their pay, for many of our best soldiers have families at home, who are dependent on the husband, father, or son who is in the army for the necessaries of life, and as day after day, week after week goes by, and every mail brings urgent appeals from the dear ones at home for that assistance the soldier is powerless to give, he becomes disheartened, thinks if he were only home, how much better it would be; takes no interest in the drill, and soon gets homesick, and is good for nothing to himself or any one else, and then, if any slight indisposition steps in, imagines he is going to die, and in many cases does die, as I firmly believe, from diseases which he would never have contracted, had his mind been at ease about those who depended upon him for their daily bread. 27 [Id, iv, p. 175]
It might be supposed that the State money would have been paid regularly, but such was not always the case, for these payments were stopped between October, 1862 and February, 1863. The Legislature had passed an act, levying a direct tax of $275,000 State money, which could not be deposited in the treasury until the following February. Between November and February a sum of about $200,000 was needed to keep up the payments to soldiers' families. To provide for this amount the Senate passed an act authorizing the issue of bonds to the amount of $250,000; but the bill was defeated in the Assembly. A wrathful correspondent writes, "Mothers, when your children are suffering from want of food and comfortable clothing, remember whose action it was that deprived you of what was promised by the State, when you consented that your husband should leave his family to fight.''28 [Id., iii, p. 266.]
Even the plan of raising bounties by county taxation was not uniformily successful. In December, 1861, the board of Richland County levied a tax of $2,500 to be used for the families of volunteers. But the soldiers from that county objected to the method proscribed. They felt that every family needed assistance, and that the larger should have a greater bounty than small ones, regardless of the amount paid into the treasury by each; while, according to the method of the board, some families received bounties, and others none at all. Moreover, before a woman could get a share of the money, she had to swear that she was a pauper. Much feeling was stirred up by this affair, and the county board probably got its just dues when the irate soldiers returned. 29 [Id., iv, p. 249.]
The promises of wealthy men in many communities that the wives and families of soldiers at the front should be cared for, were not always redeemed. The following appeal shows how the volunteers felt about this matter:
Friends, please do not stand idle with your unsoiled hands folded and witness these ladies cut and haul their own wood, day after day and week after week, as you have already done, after urging their husbands to leave them in a state of utter helplessness, promising and that surely, to care for their wants; and also that you would furnish them with comfortable homes and wearing apparel. Please do your duty at home, if you are not on the bloody battle-field. 30 [Id., i, p. 152.]
The women of Lodi, from whom this complaint comes, had been criticized by the stay-at-homes for gadding among the men, whereupon an indignant soldier wrote:
Ah, how cruel! being forsaken by those who have promised to be their protectors, having to sally forth themselves to look after the humble pittance that Uncle Sam allows them to support their little flock, the heaven-daring, opprobious epithet falls upon their ears "gadding after the men." O Shame! where is thy blush? Let these epithets rest where they belong.31 [Ibid, p. 283.]
Sometimes the soldiers themselves came to the aid of the destitute. A war-widow of Lodi, whose husband had died quite suddenly of fever, leaving a wife and five children, received a subscription from the members of Company A in order to keep her and the children from actual want.32 [Id., viii, p. 402.]
But in spite of these various provisions there was destitution in many towns in the State, and measures were soon taken by philanthropic people to lessen it. At Madison especially effective work of this kind was done; there was great need for it, since Camp Randall was the most important military station in the State, and many soldiers' wives and families gathered there to bid their husbands or fathers goodbye. Most of these families came in from the surrounding country, many of them lacked either means or energy to get back to their homes, so it fell to the women of Madison to care for them. For this purpose a Ladies' Union League was formed, and through its efforts about 200 destitute families were clothed and fed. Their spiritual wants were also ministered to, for many of these women were like frightened children, needing to be soothed and comforted. Often the women of the League wrote for or read aloud letters to these women to keep up their hope and courage.
To get the necessary supplies for these families, committees were appointed to solicit from the Madison people, who responded most liberally. Some of the townspeople were so generous, that they stinted themselves in order to give to the destitute. Even the farmers from the neighboring country sent in pork, chickens, or butter to aid the cause. These gifts were received only occasionally, however, and by December, 1863, the League was in such straits for supplies that it decided to make a special appeal to the different sections of the surrounding country. Circulars were sent to the farmers inviting them to attend a great dinner in Madison, and to bring with them as many donations as possible. They responded nobly and brought great quantities of wood and vegetables of every kind, which the Madison grocers stored until they were needed. So great was the success of this party, that the society was lifted from its slough of despond, and enabled to care for its destitute families.
Such philanthropic work was done in many places. In the small country towns women often made butter and sold it in order to obtain money for destitute families. Men gave also a helping hand to the war-widows by providing them with fuel, and helping their husbands to secure their back-pay. The whole State seems to have been full of this benevolent spirit, which manifested itself in many ways.
The spirit of humanity and brotherly love shown in the following story makes it worth narrating. Mrs. Isabel Leindecker was a young war-widow, whose husband had been reported missing in 1862. She had but five dollars left for herself and three children, and thought that if she could get her wood free, she might manage to get clothes and food for her children. So she concluded to have a wood bee. In vain her mother tried to discourage her, saying, “You will throw away your money.” Nevertheless she invited twenty-five old friends and neighbors, but did not expect that all of them would come. Having delivered her invitations, she started to buy provisions for the expected guests; the first merchant whom she approached, shoved back her three dollars and a half, saying: “Take this, Isabel, as my share. The old man cannot come.” At the meat market she met with the same kindness; the butcher said, that although he could not come, his two boys would help her to chop the fire-wood. As she passed the home of the butcher his wife brought out a bucket of rendered lard, and on the morning of the bee one of his sons brought a large piece of salt meat, saying, "Isabel, the boys might like a piece of fried meat." Another friend brought her also a large piece of meat and a bucket of sauerkraut, together with a basket of eggs and butter from his wife. One friend sent a sack of potatoes and half a bushel of beets. The village blacksmith wished also to help; but since he had to sharpen the tools of the miners on Saturdays, he could not come, but he offered to cut wood at home on another day and promised to sharpen the tools which the men used, but, when he saw the many tools, he exclaimed: "Py kolly! I can't sharpen all doze in a week," and locking his shop, he fled to the woods.
Mrs. Leindecker's own story of the bee follows:
At eleven o'clock I sent my little brother to the woods to see how many were there. He soon came running back. "Oh Isabel! what will you do! There are forty men, and the trees are falling like grass." What did I do? Being only twenty-two years old, I sat down on the floor and cried like a baby. But not long did I sit there. I ran to the hotel kept by Mrs. Lafonte, and putting my hands on her shoulders I cried, "Mrs. Lafonte, how much have you cooked?" She answered, "Child, you shall have all I have cooked, and I will go to baking." * * * To make a long story short, only twelve men came to dinner, and six to supper; just enough to keep from hurting my feelings. To sum up the day's work, I had to my credit forty loads, nine hauled home and five chopped into stove wood, enough to last till the war was over. The very next week I received word from my husband, who had been a prisoner for eight weeks; I cried to think how much I had troubled the people, when after all my husband was alive to send me money.33 [Grant County Veterans’ Association, Woman’s Auxilliary, Reminiscences of the Civil War (Bloomington, 1902).]
The foregoing incident shows that in spite of the hardships of the time, in spite of high-prices and scarcity, there was a spirit of genuine sympathy and helpfulness among the men and women of Wisconsin.
Undoubtedly a certain amount of destitution had prevailed in Wisconsin before the war, but there can be no doubt that the war greatly increased the suffering. In small country towns there were many women left with large families, who found it exceedingly hard to get along. One woman, with twelve children, managed in some way without accepting charity. One of her children reports:
Of course some of us went out to work and helped all we could, but we did not get the wages girls do now and we had to work a great deal harder. I only got a dollar a week, and a dollar and a half was thought to be large pay in those days.
The mother of this girl had a hard time with only the two little boys at home to help her, for "they were small then and couldn't do much."
Another poor woman with nine children (the oldest only thirteen) almost starved to death, and instead of using her pig for food was compelled to sell it to pay her taxes. One brave little war-widow lived in a shanty, which cost forty-five dollars; it was built on a lot belonging to a citizen of the town34 [Mrs. Fitzgerald, interviewed by author at Waupaca, March, 1910.] Here she lived with her two children, keeping body and soul together by sewing for a woman in Manitowoc. With remarkable fortitude she bore her fate, and still refuses to acknowledge that she underwent any real hardships during the war.
Sometimes the soldier, instead of being at the front, was at home sick. Mrs. H. had to support two children and a sick husband; the typhoid fever he suffered from, consumed every cent they had.
Perhaps the most pathetic case was that of Mrs. B., whose husband died in the South, leaving her with a sick child and no money. "There was twenty-five cents left after burying my husband," she said. But the plucky woman went to work in her father's home, where she alternately did house-work and carried the sick child in her arms. After waiting for four years she finally received her pension, which enabled her to build a small cottage at Waukesha.35 [Mrs. Baker, interviewed by author at Waupaca, March, 1910.]
The case of Mrs. D. is worth recording. She was left with four small children and a homestead, which she was later compelled to mortgage. She managed to keep her home attractive; it was always bright and cheerful; her curtains were made from an old heliotrope dress; a dry-goods box constituted her dresser, and her rug was braided from remnants of old trousers. The children's shoes were made from the tops of her old ones, her daughters wore combination dresses, while her boys wore trousers made of grain bags. Through sickness and poverty she preserved her cheerful disposition and managed to keep her family together, until her husband returned.36 [Mrs. Doty, interviewed by the author at Waupaca, March, 1910]
Mrs. A. was left with seven children and a four hundred acre farm. Before her husband enlisted, he had borrowed six hundred dollars from a friend, who promised not to press him for the money, and to look after his family. Eight months after the husband's departure another child was born; thus the wife had eight small children to care for. In the meantime her husband had died in the South. Then her creditor insisted on the payment of the debt, and threatened to take the farm. She begged him to leave her enough land for a house and garden, but he refused, and the sheriff evicted her; her household goods were placed outside, and she was compelled to sit up all night, to keep the cattle from destroying her possessions. She managed to keep her family together; her children grew up to be useful and respected members of the community, but her terrible experience doubtless helped to shorten her life.37 [Ms. sent by Mrs. Martha Showalter (Lancaster, May, 1910).]
In cases such as these, the high prices demanded for the necessities of life without doubt increased the difficulties of living. Calico cost forty to fifty cents a yard, tea $2.00 a pound, kerosene sixty cents a gallon. Mrs. D.'s experience in buying goods is typical. She sold a piece of land for fifty dollars and went to town to make a few purchases. By the time she had finished her shopping, she had spent forty dollars; and the wash tub, in which she brought her purchases home, was only partly filled. Another war-widow states that "Flour was five dollars per hundred, so we lived on corn-bread, and mush and milk, till I thought I should never like cornmeal again.38 [Mrs. Teresa Wilson, “A Memory of War Times,” in Grant County Veterans’ Association, Woman’s Auxiliary, Reminiscences of the Civil War.]
During this period many private fortunes were amassed; the minority seemed to fatten on the necessities of the majority. One indignant woman says:
The sacrifices and hardships Incident to war-widowhood were many, but they were borne cheerfully by all loyal women with the exception of those Instances (and they were many) where the wives of the soldiers were the victims of extortion in the matter of the purchase of household supplies from heartless copperheads, who by short weight and short measure disposed of their commodities at a price not accordant with the market valuation. Sometimes the quality of the meat and vegetables that were sold by these human vampires to the war-widows, was so bad that it would not pass muster in a pigsty. * * * With heart and brain exercised to their fullest tension on account of friends who were in peril, and ill treatment by traitors at home, we had a generous measure of ills to bear.39 [Ms. sent by Mrs. H. J. Eldred (Waupaca, April, 1910).
The Greater Sacrifice
As a rule, however, these women were philosophical. One of them writes:
There was too much to be done by the most of us, to keep the wolf from the door, to give way to our feelings, and it was better so. It gave us the feeling that we, too, although not enlisted in the ranks South, had a battle to fight at home on more than one line, and the worst of all was to keep up hope against hope, that our loved ones would be spared to come back to us, no matter if they could only come; we would thank God, if they were only a shadow of what they were when they went away.
Probably the severest test of the patriotism of these women was when they were called upon to give up all hope of the return of sons, husbands, and brothers. Hardship and privation were nothing to endure compared with the loss in battle. A Kenosha woman had six brothers at the front; the seventh and youngest had remained at home to care for his aged parents; but he was also taken through the draft, and the parents were left alone. Four of these seven boys never returned, and today their sister is alone in the world.
The husband of a war-widow living near Tustin was captured at Ream's Station, Virginia, and sent to Salisbury Prison, North Carolina. Throughout the war he had kept in close touch with his wife and family, but after his imprisonment they received only one note. His wife was left in a fearful state of suspense regarding his fate, until she read in a Madison paper of his death.
Mrs. A. H. Hoge tells of a sad experience she had with a young Wisconsin soldier whom she met on board a hospital ship. He was an only child and a boy of rare promise; had been well educated, and was at the outbreak of the war ready to enter a law-partnership with his father. The day this young man left Wisconsin, his mother, forgetting all but her only child, threw her arms around the colonel of the regiment and said, "O, Colonel, for God's sake, guard my treasure, for he is my all." When Mrs. Hoge saw him, he was hopelessly ill, but did not realize that death was at hand. She said to him, "Suppose we never meet on earth again, what would you say.'' Looking up serenely, he answered, "I understand you. Should I die, tell my mother that as I have lain here these weary days all her early teachings have come back, and I trust have done their work. * * * Tell her I never regretted the step I have taken. She must not mourn for me as without hope, for if I die, 'twill be in a glorious cause and our separation will be short." The next morning he was dead.40 [Moore, pp. 356, 357.]
A typical incident of its kind is the story told under the title, "One little mother."41 [H. W. Rood, in Milwaukee Sunday Telegraph, March 6, 1887] She was a timid, gentle woman, but she possessed something of the soldierly spirit of her father; she did not complain, even when the last of her four brothers enlisted, and bade her goodbye. In the autumn of the same year she had a letter from her son in Dane County saying that he could not stay away from the army any longer. Though her heart had been strong she wept at the news, but the spirit of patriotism conquered her fears, and she wrote her boy a letter full of blessings, and bade him God-speed.
But this was not her last sacrifice; for in the summer of 1862 her fifteen-year-old son George, inspired by a war-meeting he had attended, decided to enlist. Again her love and her patriotism fought for supremacy, again patriotism conquered, and George enlisted. This left her with her husband, the baby, and her thirteeen-year old Herman. She prayed for the safety of her sons, and wrote to them such letters as only a mother can write. Even now the oldest son remembers the advice she gave him: "Try to keep your conversation among your comrades such that you would be always willing to have your mother hear it. * * * I beg you not to run any unnecessary risks, but your mother wants you, whatever may come, never to shirk from your duty.'' He says that the first piece of advice was much more difficult to follow than the second, but that he strove hard to live up to both, and that his mother's letters to him were a tower of strength.
Plenty of trouble came to this brave and noble woman. In 1862 one of her brothers died at Alexandria, Virginia, another was wounded that same year at Williamsburg, and came home with a ball in his ankle. Her eldest son was injured at Atlanta, but did not leave the army, re-enlisting in January, 1864. Her hardest experience was still to come, however; for when drafting began her husband was compelled to go, although his arm was so crippled that he could hardly handle a musket after reaching the front. To add to her anxiety, Herman, who was by that time sixteen years old, insisted on going to the front; thus she was left alone with her youngest son. Although the great loneliness oppressed her she wrote cheerful letters to her beloved ones; her neighbors were amazed that such a timid person as she could be so brave. Finally her reward came, for in August, 1865, her husband and two of her sons came back to Madison. They had planned to surprise the dear mother, so they came stealing into the room where she lay asleep and woke her by asking in a most matter of fact way for something to eat. When she opened her eyes she asked what the rascals meant by coming into people's houses and waking them up in the middle of the night. In her great joy she was the same composed, undemonstrative, and practical woman she had always been. The story is not unique —there were many like her—but this serves to show the firmness of mind with which the loyal women of Wisconsin bore their trying experiences during the war period.
Women as Farmers
Perhaps the most striking phase of women's activity was their work on the farms. The importance of this army of workers cannot be overestimated, for without them agricultural production would in many cases have been stopped, although it must not be forgotten that the use of labor-saving machinery and the influx of new settlers were also factors in the maintenance of farm production throughout the war. Labor-saving machinery had been used before 1861, but its use became more common during the war period. At first mowers and reapers were utilized only on the largest farms; later their use was more general, and supplemented by that of the harrow, the grain-drill, the complanter, the steam-thresher, the revolving horse-rake, the rotary-spade, the steel plow, the thresher, and the two-horse cultivator.42 [E. D. Fite, Social and Industrial Conditions During the Civil War (New York, 1910), p. 6; “Agricultural Development of the West,” in Quarterly Journal of Economics, xx, p. 271; R. G. Thwaites, “Cyrus Hall McCormick and the Reaper,” in Wisconsin Historical Society Proceedings, 1908, p. 255.]
In many of the poorer communities, however, there was little or no labor-saving machinery and the women who did their own farm-work gathered in their crops in the old- fashioned way. The experience of Mrs. D. is a good illustration. In the part of the country where she lived, many of the women had no horses and were forced to harness oxen. She herself had to haul wood, and inexperienced as she was she broke the wagon-tongue in the process. Some of the women in her neighborhood sheared sheep, took the wool home, carded and spun it and made socks. Mrs. D. used to burn brush and build fences herself, and she also hoed and raked. She had once a trying experience with an unruly yoke of cattle, which used to get into the grain; often she had to get up in the middle of the night in order to drive them out. At one time she went to church, and returned to find fifteen of her neighbor's cattle in her wheat. She raised not only wheat, but also a little buckwheat ; she hired a man to cut it, but threshed it herself. She had planted sixty bushels of sugar-cane on her farm and invited the soldiers in the neighborhood to a cutting bee; as a result she and the children lived well that winter on buckwheat and molasses.43 [Mrs. Doty, interviewed by author at Waupaca, March, 1910.]
Such instances as the preceding were common in Waushara County, which had a poor and sandy soil and very little wealth. Many of the women in that county had patches which they cultivated with the help of children, for every able-bodied man had left for the front. A young girl went one beautiful afternoon out in the meadows to help her father. He did not want her to do a man's work; before the war, the women of his family only milked the cows and attended to the garden. He was an old man, however, and needed help, therefore he finally allowed his daughter to spread the hay; which occasion she afterwards declared was the proudest of her life.
Another woman living in Waushara County was left with only three old men to help her. They cut the wood, she tended to the cows, cut hay with a scythe, and cradled and bound her oats.
Mrs. B. drove ten miles to Weyauwega to get wood to build a bam, hauled it back herself, and then shingled her barn.44 [Mr. Eldred, interviewed by author at Waupaca, March, 1910.]
In some towns the women formed sewing-circles to make clothing for these women-farmers. They cut out and made children's garments as well as women's, and sold them as cheaply as possible to the women on the farms.
Occasionally women became agricultural laborers, but this was not common, for in many communities the people could not afford to pay for help. In a few places, however, German women hired out by the day and received good wages.
The number of women doing work on the farms increased as the war went on, because most able-bodied men were taken from their agricultural work and pressed into service in the army. Mrs. Livermore gives a vivid picture of her visit to Wisconsin and Iowa in the early summer of 1863, which shows to what extent women were then working on the farm:
As we dashed along the railway, let our course lead in whatever direction it might, it took us through what seemed a continuous wheat-field. The yellow grain was waving everywhere; and two-horse reapers were cutting It down In a fashion that would have astonished Eastern farmers. * * * Women were in the field everywhere, driving the reapers, binding and shocking, and loading grain, until then an unusual sight. At first it displeased me, and I turned away in aversion. By-and-bye I observed how skilfully they drove the horses round and round the wheat field, diminishing more and more Its periphery at every circuit, the glittering blades of the reaper cutting wide swathes with a rapid, clicking sound that was pleasant to hear. Then I saw, that where they followed the reapers, binding and shocking, although they did not keep up with the men, their work was done with more precision and nicety, and their sheaves had an artistic finish that those lacked made by men. So I said to myself, "They are worthy women and deserve praise; their husbands are probably too poor to hire help, and like the helpmeets God designed them to be, they have girt themselves to this work—and they are doing It superbly. Good wives! Good women!"
One day Mrs. Livermore drove twenty miles across the country, through the same "golden fields of grain and between great stretches of green waving com." Some accident to her carriage caused her driver to halt opposite a field where six women and two. men were harvesting. She walked over and accosted them:
“And so you are helping to gather the harvest!” I said to a woman of forty-five or fifty who sat on the reaper to drive, as she stopped her horses for a brief breathing spell.
"Yes ma'am," she said, "the men have all gone to the war, so that: my man can’t hire help at any price, and I told my girls we must turn to and give him a lift with the harvesting."
''You are not German? You are surely one of my own country women--American?"
"Yes, ma’am; we moved here from Cattaraugus County, New York State, and we've done very well since we came. * * * It came very hard on us to let the boys go, but we felt we'd no right to hinder 'em. The country needed 'em more'n we. "We’ve money enough to hire help, if it could be had; and my man don't like to have me and the girls a-worklng out doors; but there don't seem no help for It now."
I stepped over to where the girls were binding the fallen grain. They were fine, well-built lassies, with the honest eyes and firm mouth of the mother, brown like her and clad in the same sensible costume.
"I tell mother," said Annie, standing very erect with flashing eyes, "that as long as the country can't get along without grain, nor the army fight without food, we're serving the country just as much here in the harvest field as our boys are on the battlefield—and that sort o' takes the edge off from this business of doing men's work, you know."
Further conversation disclosed the fact that amid their double labor in the house and field, these women found time for the manufacture of hospital supplies, and had helped to fill box after box with shirts and drawers, dried apples and pickles, currant wine and blackberry jam, to be forwarded to the poor fellows languishing in far-off Southern hospitals. My eyes were unsealed. The women in the harvest field were invested with a new and heroic interest, and each hard-handed, brown, toiling woman was a heroine. 45 [Livermore, pp. 144-149]
A Prairie du Chien soldier writes:
"There were four brothers of us, all single and all under age when we enlisted. This left two small brothers, three young sisters, and a father and mother to do the work of the farm. This meant planting and harvesting crops, cutting, curing, and stacking hay, fixing fences, chopping wood, caring for the stock, and in fact doing all the work that had been done before by the boys. These things my mother and sisters helped to do. This was the condition all through our section. From many families the husband enlisted, leaving the mother with small children. The mother and the small brood carried on all the work of the farm as they were able. They cleared land, chopped down trees, and clad in brown denim dresses they burned the brush and cultivated the soil. They gathered and marketed the crops and thus became not only self-sustaining, but actually had a surplus with which to help the nation. Two girls, whom I well knew, became as expert in harvesting grain and in chopping wood as any man in the country".46 [Ms. letter of A. C. Wallin (Prairie du Chien, Feb., 1910.)]
One women went from Madison into Columbia County, where she took up uncultivated land, which she broke herself; there she planted and raised crops and was thus able to support herself and her four small children. Her ambition was to make a home for her children, and for her husband if he ever returned; she knew that she might have been forced to accept charity if she had remained in Madison.47 [Mrs. Bennett, interviewed by author at Madison, April, 1910.]
Women in New Lines of Work
When the Civil War broke out the total number of women in Wisconsin was 367,000, of whom 17,500 were engaged in some occupation. The most popular, according to the number of women engaged in each pursuit, were servants, 12,287; teachers, about 1,500; seamstresses, 1,191 milliners, 533; mantua-makers, 472; laundresses, 411 makers of men's clothing, 386; tailoresses, 208; housekeepers, 185; nurses, 184; and music teachers, 166.48 [U. S. Census, 1860, vol. “Population.” Women’s occupations are only approximately by the compiler, for the census did not differentiate women from men, except in industrial lines.] The number of women engaged in manufacture was 773, apportioned as follows: men's clothing, 386; lumber (sawed), 79; millinery, 74; furniture and cabinets, 39. 49 [Ibid, vol. “Manufacturing,” p. 658. Occupations omitted by compiler, where less than thirty women were engaged.]
During the Civil War, Wisconsin women filled the places left vacant by the soldiers, so that by 1865 women had entered many fields of industry hitherto occupied by men only. Unfortunately there are no statistics for the latter year, but it may be assumed that those for 1870 will approximately represent the conditions at the close of the war. In 1870 the number of women in Wisconsin was 509,000, of whom over 25,000 were engaged in the following occupations: servants, 15,879; teachers, 3,169; farmers, 1,387; mantua-makers, 2,132; seamtresses, 1,179; laundresses, 276; nurses, 67. The chief difference in the decade is that the number of women in commercial and industrial pursuits increased from 773 in I860, to 3,967 in 1870. The statistics for 1870 are: men's clothing, 698; lumber (sawed), 362; woolen goods, 205; millinery, 155; furniture, 151; carpets, 116. Women are also recorded as workers in match factories, paper mills, straw-goods factories, cheese factories, book-binderies, and glove factories. Moreover, there were seventeen women keeping, grocery stores in 1870; twenty-six selling or trading in agricultural implements; and ninety-two acting as clerks in stores. A few women are reported as peddlers, steamboat employees, bookkeepers, trunk and valise makers, dealers in books, stationery, and drugs, cigar makers, whip makers, fur dressers, in the manufacture of hoop-skirts, malt liquors, awnings, baskets, bags, curled-hair, etc.50 [Id., 1870, vol. “Population and Social Statistics,” pp. 666-690, 694, 695; vol. “Industry and Wealth,” pp. 583, 584.]
The census reports do not show that there was a great increase in the number of women employed; the percentage in 1860 is 4.4, while in 1870 it is 4.9; so that the main difference—aside from farm labor during the war, which does not appear in the census reports—lies in the greater diversity of occupations, particularly in industrial and commercial lines.
From interviews and personal recollections a few more facts have been secured, relative to women's occupations. In Richland County one woman raised sage and sold it to the druggists of Richland County at a dollar a pound. Another occupation in that neighborhood was the digging of ginseng, which was sold to dealers and then shipped to China; in the ginseng season the woods were searched for it by scores of women. At Menasha in 1861 and 1862 a number of young women entered the factory of the Wooden Ware Company in order that the men might enlist in the army.
Between 1861 and 1865 women's position among bread-earners became more common, and by the close of the war they had invaded many new fields only in the industrial and commercial world, but also in clerical, charitable, and religious lines.51 [Fite, p. 244 (note).]
The Sewing Machine
In the statistics given above it will be noticed that sewing was a favorite occupation for women in both 1860 and 1870, it is probable that the invention in 1849 of the sewing machine by Elias Howe, had much to do with making this occupation so popular. To make a man's shirt by hand-required fourteen hours and twenty minutes steady work; with the sewing-machine, the same garment could be made in one hour and sixteen minutes. The popularity of the sewing machine is shown by the fact that the number manufactured by the Wheeler and Wilson Machine Company, increased from 25,000 in 1860 to 40,000 in 1864; and the number of Singer machines from 13,000 to 23,000.52 [Ibid., p. 89.] Very few families in the small towns of Wisconsin possessed sewing-machines. A woman in one of these towns was very anxious to secure one, so in order to realize her desire she lived on bread and molasses for a long time, and tried to pay for a machine. A kind neighbor found out her plan, and she requested some of the members of her church to assist her. After securing the machine this woman made the clothing given her under the Government contract in a very short time. Probably without using the machine, neither she nor hundreds of others could have earned a living making these garments.
A Patriotic School Teacher
The increase in the number of women who taught school during this period is not at all surprising, since so many of these positions were left vacant by men who had gone to the front. The wages paid differed, however, for in 1860 a man received an average of $24.20 a month, while a woman received only $22.24. Very few accounts have been secured relating to the Wisconsin women who taught during this period. As an illustration of the patriotic spirit of one of these teachers the following story is told.
About nine miles from Waupaca a young woman taught a district school; she was devoted to the Union and taught her pupils to sing patriotic songs. The school board consisted mostly of Southern sympathizers, who told her that such songs would never do. The next day the children began their school work by singing "John Brown."
That same morning the members of the board waited upon her, and informed her that she would have to choose between discontinuing the songs or closing the school. The plucky girl replied that she had a contract to teach, that the children were accustomed to sing in the morning, and should continue to do so.
On the third day following this episode, the teacher found the schoolhouse closed; but nothing daunted, she summoned the patriotic women of the neighborhood, who remained at the schoolhouse until noon as her witnesses. Her next act was to call on the .school board and demand her salary for the whole period during which she had expected to teach. They refused to grant her request, but fortunately a company of soldiers had come home on a furlough and they insisted that justice be done. The case was at last carried to the circuit court, where the judge rendered a verdict in her favor.53 [Mr. Eldred, interviewed by author at Waupaca, March, 1910.]
In the spring of 1862 the residents of Madison were much interested in the arrival at Camp Randall of a number of Confederates, who had been captured at Island Number Ten. A person present has described their coming:
A large crowd awaited their arrival, and when they came, regarded their removal from the cars to the camp, with curious interest. They were received by a guard of the Nineteenth Regiment, accompanied by a fife and drum band, playing lively airs. They passed between the files to the camp, many of them heavily laden with baggage. They all looked tired and jaded, and the pale faces of some of them showed that they were seriously affected. When they were nearly inside the camp, the band struck up the tune of "Dixie" and the steps of the prisoners were at once made firmer and their eyes brighter. There were about sixty sick prisoners, and the removal of these afforded a painful spectacle. Its sadness was relieved, though, by the tender manner in which the soldiers of the Nineteenth supported their tottering steps, while helping them to the stretchers.
The prisoners cooked their own food, and seemed to be satisfied with the rations they received, although they missed the com bread to which they had been accustomed. There was a .prevailing anxiety among them for a supply of reading matter, and a few expressed a desire to work for the surrounding farmers, believing the work would be better for their health. From all accounts they were most humanely treated, and the spirit shown toward them by the residents of Madison was a generous and Christian one.
Madison women worked among these Confederate prisoners, especially in the hospitals, where they died like sheep. One woman, who did much toward making the prisoners comfortable, admits that she had not the ordinary human feelings for them, but nevertheless did her duty, and no one would have dreamed of the bitter sentiment which she so carefully concealed. Speaking of one such hospital scene a correspondent writes:
Although the scene was a very sad one, yet its sorrow was abundantly relieved by the instances of warmhearted kindness and attention. We saw some jellies, custards, brandy, shirts, etc., which had been sent for the sick by some wholesouled ladies and gentlemen of this city. They have their reward in the grateful prayers of sick men, who are far away from home or friends. 54 [Corres. Wis. Volunteers, vi, pp. 90, 91.]
The hard times and depression which had characterized the middle period of the war gave place in 1864 to an era of reckless display and extravagance, combined with apparent callousness to the sufferings of others. Amusements were resumed on a gayer scale than formerly. Noble and serious-minded women were shocked, and protested against such frivolity and heedlessness. The Ladies' Union League of Madison prepared a pamphlet under the editorship of Mrs. J. W. Hoyt, Mrs. Edward Salomon, and Mrs. B. F. Hopkins, entitled "Retrenchment, the Duty of the Women of the North." They argued that while the national Government was facing such an extraordinary levy upon its funds, it was the duty of every member of the Federal family personally to assist in meeting the demand. The pamphlet argues:
We have before us the spectacle of our Government-grappling with the most formidable rebellion that ever assaulted the nationality of any people * * * seeking to do all through its own resources, in order to avert the calamity of a large foreign indebtedness. No true American, man or woman, can contemplate this magnificence of preparation, this almost sublime spectacle of self-reliance, without being willing, without being anxious to add the savings of every judicious retrenchment to the national coffers.
That small class of persons who have an independence, or who are now accumulating fortunes, ought, furthermore, to do this as an example to those who have not such means, and who have yet the human nature to seek to imitate a style they cannot afford. It would be a good thought if every time an extravagant or superfluous article were about to be purchased, in reckoning the cost, the purchaser would add to this the value of that outlay some one else will make on this account.
The report further states that most of the members of the League depend upon business or professional support, and that many of the husbands and fathers belonging to that class are not making as much money as they were before the war:
With this large professional and business community rests the controlling ideas, as well as the largely controlling means of pushing successfully forward, or of untimely ending the war. It is possible, that the natural protectors of most of these families may, by unremitting energy and business devotion, maintain them in all the comfort and luxury of the past, notwithstanding the increased price of everything brought Into household use. * * * But are we willing to see such efforts at such a time as this put forth to such an end—that of ease and appearance? How much more worthy our womanhood and this crisis, in every possible way to help lift the burden of the war from those on whom it mainly rests.
There is a still larger class of families, from whose circles a majority of those now in the field have gone. They are those, who, by the daily labor of both men and women, have been able to furnish themselves with the comforts and cheaper luxuries of life. Now, with the absence of the heads and older brothers and sons of these families, whose labor brought in the most of the little income, and the increased prices of goods and provisions, a state of real privation has come to exist. We cannot change all this. Our largest charities will not cover so large a ground. The only way in which we can meet our obligations to this class, is to help those in distress, and to those who are not, but who from the veriest of necessities are obliged to live cheaper, dress plainer, and work harder, set the example of ourselves doing without those extras that will on the one hand consume the money that ought to go in aid of the government, and on the other, nourish the natural jealousy and discontent of the people. * * * The sympathy and confidence, that an entirely practicable retrenchment on our part would bring about between ourselves and this class of people, would react with a mighty force upon the rank and file of our armies.
A table retrenchment, that would touch the health and substantial comfort of any member of the household, would certainly be Injudicious. The housekeeper holds the health and temper of her home pretty much In her own hands; and, without controversy, women maintain their empire over the opinions and actions of men largely through the fascinations of personal appearance.
What your committee would urge is, that we undertake to substitute good taste and a wholesome abundance in the place of parade and luxury, and that we make this the rule, not more for our families, than for social entertainments; and that, in our personal attire, we try the charm of a very decided plainness. * * *
Nothing but the direst necessity should Induce us to cut off the supplies from which flow moral and religious education. The general charities and institutions of each community ought to be sustained, and it were well if this could be done even more liberally than before. 55 [Op. cit.]
The foregoing appeal shows better than any record, the spirit and ideals of the noblest of Wisconsin women. With such personalities at the head of Wisconsin charities and relief work, it is no wonder that the citizens of the State are proud of the part her women took in the Civil War.